PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — Pennsylvania’s first two “presumptive positive” cases of COVID-19 were announced in March 2020. Since then, the state has had more than two million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and on Thursday, it surpassed 40,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
In November of 2020, Pennsylvania passed 10,000 deaths from COVID-19. The following January, the state passed 20,000 deaths, and the death toll reached 30,000 Pennsylvanians in October of 2021. On Jan. 27, 2022, the state surpassed 40,000 deaths attributed to the virus, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
If those 40,000 deaths were distributed evenly since the coronavirus was first detected in Pennsylvania, it would equate to approximately 2 deaths every hour or about 58 deaths each day since March 2020.
Dr. John Goldman, infectious disease specialist at UPMC, told abc27 in a previous interview that at this point in the pandemic, deaths among individuals who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 have gone "way down," with most instances of severe illness affecting those who have not gotten the vaccine.
COVID-19 vaccines were not available for the majority of 2020, but the Pennsylvania Department of Health explained in an email that 84% of coronavirus-related deaths were in unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people between Jan. 1, 2021, and Jan. 4, 2022, when the vaccines were being distributed. Of the 14,120 "verified deaths among cases" during that time period, 2,306 of the people who died were fully vaccinated while 11,814 of them were not.
In another previous interview, Goldman said that vaccinated individuals who do end up with severe cases of COVID-19 are typically older or immunocompromised. “To put that in perspective, an 80-plus-year-old who is vaccinated has a lower risk of death than a 50-to-65-year-old who is unvaccinated,” Goldman said.
Some have argued that deaths being attributed to COVID-19 are not actually being caused by the coronavirus. While many of those whose deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 faced other health challenges, such as immune deficiencies, Goldman says that they probably would not have died if they hadn't contracted the coronavirus.
"With the flu, almost everyone who dies is above the age of 65 and has other medical illnesses. We don't say they died of those other medical illnesses, we say they died because they got the flu, and it made those illnesses worse," Goldman said.
"One of the things with any respiratory illness is people who are older have a higher mortality, people who are sicker have a higher mortality, but if they had not gotten the flu, for example, or COVID, for example, they wouldn't have died. The flu or COVID made their congestive heart failure, their asthma, their emphysema worse, but without the flu or without COVID, they wouldn't have ended up in the hospital and they wouldn't have died," he continued.
In another flu-coronavirus comparison, in 2019, 2,483 Pennsylvanians died from influenza and pneumonia, according to CDC data. That same CDC data shows that between 2014 and 2019, the number of influenza/pneumonia deaths in the state stayed between 2,000 and 3,000 each year. At that rate, it would take approximately 15 years for the number of flu deaths in Pennsylvania to hit 40,000 -- the number of COVID-19 deaths reached in under two years.
No one from the Pennsylvania Department of Health was available for an interview, but the department said in an emailed statement, "It is critical that individuals understand that being fully vaccinated and receiving a booster dose continues to be highly effective against the COVID-19 virus, especially serious illness, hospitalization and death. We continue to encourage all eligible Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated and get boosted."