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Here’s why US Covid death numbers aren’t all the same

It’s difficult to understand and convey the toll of the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s not surprising that there’s no single way federal agencies, newsrooms, or universities can tell us a tally as immense as one million known US coronavirus deaths arrived.

Even the White House has acknowledged that there was no consensus method for counting coronavirus data.

When Jen Psaki, then Biden’s press secretary, was asked last week As for how the administration would recognize the milestone, she said, in part, “We look at the CDC data and the Johns Hopkins data, and different news organizations rate them differently.”

Two days later, President Biden anticipated the moment at his second Covid-19 summit.

“We are marking a tragic milestone here in the United States: one million deaths from Covid, one million empty chairs at the family dinner table – each irreplaceable,” Mr Biden told the summit, which took place virtually. That came more than a week after NBC News said the mark had been reached but before some other reports, including that from the New York Times, crossed the threshold.

The figure is based on death certificates and other official records. But given the many diagnoses likely to have been missed in the spring of 2020 due to a lack of testing and the lack of official guidance on how to report those records, that’s certainly an undercount, experts say.

The US is now reporting an average of just over 300 known deaths per day, according to data collected by The Times. At the peak of the winter Omicron wave, the United States was experiencing more than 2,600 deaths per day, according to Times data, and in January 2021 the daily toll hit a US peak of more than 3,300 per day.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, The Times has had a team of journalists dedicated to collecting and publishing national coronavirus data. The Times has developed a system that combines computer software and manual reporting to compile a unique data set that sometimes yields figures that differ slightly from those compiled by others.

The key difference lies in the combination of sources. Some news outlets obtain their data exclusively from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or from Johns Hopkins University. But The Times uses a variety of datasets — from the federal government, state governments, and many local and regional health departments. These sources may vary in their numbers of cases and deaths for specific areas at specific times. For example, the state of California releases new data in the morning, but Los Angeles County typically updates its data late in the day.

The Times’ data-gathering system also allows the newsroom to put aside numbers that seem unreliable. This policy helps explain why the Times’ national death toll may differ from others.

A key consideration for counting deaths by county is how the location of a death is recorded. For example, several states such as Georgia and Tennessee include nonresident deaths in their state totals. The Times omits these deaths whenever possible to avoid double counting of deaths occurring outside of the victim’s home county that may be reported in both locations.

The Times considers this precaution a key feature of its dataset. However, this means that some deaths may be omitted if their districts of residence are not clearly stated, and as a result the Times count may differ from others’ totals.

By any calculation, however, the magnitude of the nation’s loss to the virus was immense. Marking it last week, Mr. Biden said in a statement that the nation “must not turn a deaf ear to such suffering.”

Lisa Waananen contributed reporting.

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