U.S. COVID death toll surpasses that of Spanish Flu pandemic

The United States’ known death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed the number of dead from the Spanish Flu, according to the side-by-side numbers — though a direct comparison between the raw numbers doesn’t give the whole story, medical experts and statisticians say.

What is clear is that the sheer numbers, given the modern-day tools that combat such illnesses, are a heavy burden. Confirmed U.S. COVID deaths as of Tuesday night are at 678,368, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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That’s about 3,500 more than died in the 1918 Spanish Flu, which took an estimated 675,000 lives in the U.S. Before this, that flu pandemic was the most lethal since the United States was formed.

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There are differences between the two scenarios. In 1918, the U.S. population was just over 100 million, whereas it’s 330 million today, as The Washington Post points out. That makes our death rate one in 500 Americans as opposed to the 1918 toll of one in 150.

Below is a map of where deaths due to the coronavirus have been reported so far in the U.S., organized by state (data from The New York Times, Johns Hopkins University and Georgia Department of Public Health):

Globally, the number is close to 4.7 million dead so far, which is much lower than the worldwide 50 million who died in 1918 and 1919 from the Spanish flu, as Fortune noted. But unlike the two-year period that the Spanish flu ravaged humanity’s ranks, COVID-19 is not even close to quitting.

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“The fact that deaths surged at the end of 2020, nine months after the pandemic reached the United States, with the highest daily death tolls in early January 2021, is perhaps the most discouraging comparison to the historical record,” Virginia Tech historian E. Thomas Ewing told The Washington Post. “We ignored the lessons of 1918, and then we disregarded warnings issued in the first months of this pandemic. We will never know how many lives could have been saved if we had taken this threat more seriously.”

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