Why has the COVID-19 death rate decreased recently?

The number of COVID-19 cases has been rising quickly. As of July 20th, the U.S. has confirmed 3,698,161 cases and recorded 139,659 deaths. Yet the number of people who die each day from COVID is still down from its peak. So why might this be?

Scientists think there are several reasons for the lower death rate right now. The primary issue is that the death rate is a “lagging indicator.” The amount of time between diagnosis and death is typically several weeks. And it can take another week or two to document and report the death. So, a big spike in COVID-19 cases today may not raise the death rate until a month from now. 

Second, we’re testing more, so we’re catching more people with mild or moderate disease. People who experience mild or moderate COVID-19 cases are unlikely to die from it. Similarly, the demographics have changed. More younger people are catching COVID-19, and this age group tends to have a lower risk of dying from it.

Finally, some people think we’re getting a little better at treating COVID. Though there are now some promising treatments, we don’t have actual information, from medical records or studies, that demonstrate this is true.

As cases increase, the number of people who die from COVID will also go up. People of all ages are at risk of getting very sick or even dying from COVID. But older people, and people with medical conditions are at higher risk. There are still many things you can do to keep yourself and your family safe.


Last update: July 20, 2020 2:00 pm ET

Science review: AGB, JAB, ERS