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One Million and Counting: Estimates of Deaths in the United States from Ancestral SARS-CoV-2 and Variants

Briefing Note PDF


Background: Over one million COVID-19 deaths have been recorded in the United States. Sustained global SARS-CoV-2 transmission has led to the emergence of new variants with increased transmissibility, virulence, and/or immune evasion. The specific burden of mortality from each variant over the course of the U.S. COVID-19 epidemic remains unclear.

Methods: We constructed an epidemiologic model using data reported by the CDC on COVID-19 mortality and circulating variant proportions to estimate the number of recorded COVID-19 deaths attributable to each SARS-CoV-2 variant in the U.S. We conducted sensitivity analysis to account for parameter uncertainty.

Findings: Of the 1,003,419 COVID-19 deaths recorded as of May 12, 2022, we estimate that 460,124 (46%) were attributable to WHO-designated variants. By U.S. Census Region, the South recorded the most variant deaths per capita (median estimate 158 per 100,000), while the Northeast recorded the fewest (111 per 100,000). Over 40 percent of national COVID-19 deaths were estimated to be caused by the combination of Alpha (median estimate 39,548 deaths), Delta (273,801), and Omicron (117,560).

Interpretation: SARS-CoV-2 variants that have emerged around the world have imposed a significant mortality burden in the U.S. In addition to national public health strategies, greater efforts are needed to lower the risk of new variants emerging, including through global COVID-19 vaccination, treatment, and outbreak mitigation.


The full text of the pre-print is available on medRxiv.