In calculating its human toll, a pandemic is similar to a war. The most precise way public health researchers can get a handle on the impact of something like COVID-19 is to compare the number of total deaths recorded in a specific place during the pandemic with death tallies from prior years.
That analysis will yield a figure known as “excess deaths” — which simply means deaths above and beyond what would normally be expected.
That figure captures not just COVID-19 deaths, but the number of people who were unable to access health care at a moment in their lives when a chronic condition was becoming life-threatening. It also includes individuals whose primary cause of death may have been something else, but who were also infected with COVID-19.