Will US COVID-19 Deaths Be Double the Number of US Vietnam War Deaths by Fall 2020?

According to one estimate, the COVID-19 pandemic may leave as many as 300,000 Americans dead by end of 2020.

  • Published
covid deaths july 24 2020
Image via (CDC) COVID-19 deaths by county as of July 24, 2020

Claim

The total number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. will be double the American death toll from the Vietnam War by fall 2020.

Rating

What's True

The CDC provisionally reported the U.S. COVID-19 death toll, at the time of this writing on July 24, 2020, at 132,366. That's more than double the "in-theater" American death toll in the Vietnam War.

What's False

Even before fall 2020, U.S. COVID-19 deaths already surpassed a doubling of U.S. Vietnam war deaths.

Origin

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On July 24, 2020, author Stephen King posted a message on Twitter that claimed the number of Americans who will perish as a result of COVID-19 will be twice the number of Americans who died during the Vietnam War by this fall: 

King was both right and wrong. The death toll in the United States from COVID-19 will indeed be more than twice the death toll from the Vietnam War by this fall, but it won’t take that long. In fact, as of this writing in July 2020, the COVID-19 death toll is already double the number of American deaths recorded for the Vietnam War. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) provisional count for deaths involving COVID-19 was 132,366 as of July 24, 2020. The CDC’s data, which often lags behind other sources by a week or so, is about 12,000 deaths lower than the John Hopkins University count of 144,780 COVID-19 related deaths.

In either case, both of these numbers are more than twice as high as the number of Americans who were killed in combat during the Vietnam War. According to a report compiled by the Congressional Research Service in 2019, 58,220 American “in-theater” deaths were recorded for the Vietnam War. If we double this number, we get 116,440. 

We are, of course, unable to determine how many more people will die from COVID-19 by this fall. The CDC has published forecasts on the total number of deaths from this pandemic, but their estimates only go to mid-August. After assessing 26 individual forecasts from organizations researching the pandemic, the CDC estimated that the United States will see “between 160,000 and 175,000 total reported COVID-19 deaths by August 15.”

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota reported on July 23 that the United States was seeing approximately 1,000 casualties per day from the pandemic. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, said that if this trend continues the United States, could surpass 300,000 COVID-19 deaths by the end of the year. 

  • Published
Sources

Johnson, Marty.   “Gottlieb Says US Could Hit 300K COVID-19 Deaths by End of Year.”
    The Hill.   22 July 2020.

Congressional Research Service.   “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics.”
    24 September 2019.

Welna, David.   “Coronavirus Has Now Killed More Americans Than Vietnam War.”
    NPR.   28 April 2020.

Soucheray, Stephanie.   “US Hits 4 Million COVID Cases, Again Logs 1,000 New Deaths.”
    CIDRAP.   23 July 2020. cidrap

CDC.   “Daily Updates of Totals by Week and State.”
    Retrieved 24 July 2020.

CDC.   “Forecasts of Total Deaths.”
    22 July 2020.

Waxman, Olivia and Chris Wilson.   “How the Coronavirus Death Toll Compares to Other Deadly Events From American History.”
    Time.   22 July 2020.