COVID-19 is worse than the flu and is now a leading cause of death

We can now officially put to rest all comparisons of COVID-19 to influenza. The numbers are in. Coronavirus is killing more Americans than the flu and almost everything else. According to data compiled by The Washington Post, COVID-19 is now the second leading cause of death in America.

In some parts of the country, it’s way ahead. In Louisiana and Washington, D.C., more people died of COVID-19 during the first week of April than any other cause. In New York, it’s not even close: 5,226 died in that state from the virus that week compared to 870 who died of heart disease.

The upward march of these numbers is steady and disturbing. The week of March 16, COVID-19 didn’t rank among the 15 most common causes of death. The next week, it ranked seventh. The following week, it moved up to third. The week of April 6, COVID-19 killed more people than anything besides heart disease. And it’s likely to take the top spot soon. Possibly, it already has since news emerged last week of variations in the way different states report coronavirus cases.

These numbers are a tragic milestone, and they’re also a verdict on attempts to downplay the severity of this event. Messaging from political leaders and some media voices early in this outbreak comparing it to the flu were wrong. They may have been well-intentioned efforts to keep people from panicking (though it’s just as likely they were callow attempts to deny the future scientists were projecting) but that point is moot now. We can put it to bed. Coronavirus is the most formidable public health threat in a generation. The time for minimizing is over. The time for aggressive testing, social distancing, and (hopefully soon) treatment is now.