Featured image for article

The Great ‘Decoupling’: North Carolina Hasn’t Seen Excess Deaths from Covid since Mid-March

My research brief today discusses a key development in the state’s experience under Covid-19. The graph atop this post plots weekly Covid deaths against the excess death threshold (the raw data is in the appendix to the brief).

Covid’s peak in early winter is evident. But as you can see, North Carolina has not been suffering excess deaths owing to Covid-19 since mid-March 2021.

As I explain:

What it means is that deaths in North Carolina from all causes, including Covid-19, are within the normal range of deaths one would expect for this time of year. The pandemic is becoming endemic, and the deaths it is contributing to North Carolina are not unlike that of flu in a random year.

This information is important to know amid concerns over the delta variant of Covid-19, which is said to be more infectious and which is behind a recent increase in lab-confirmed cases in North Carolina. But more infectious is not the same as more dangerous, and vaccine-induced and natural immunity are now factoring in — bringing about what experts call the “decoupling” between infections and severe illness and death.

Furthermore, the delta variant is already showing signs of having peaked in the states hardest hit by it, as well as the United Kingdom, India, and other affected regions. …

North Carolina has been above the excess death threshold for most weeks during the pandemic. Since mid-March, however, North Carolina has not been witnessing excess death events from Covid-19. The virus is still out there, yes, but its effect on North Carolina is not causing a statistical anomaly in terms of deaths. It is behaving more and more like an endemic virus, such as a flu, not a pandemic.

Marty Makary, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Carey Business School, editor in chief of Medpage Today, and author of “The Price We Pay,” wrote the following in a July 13 piece for the Washington Post:

In the United States, the covid-19 threat is currently low. Nearly all at-risk Americans are protected. The virus is now circulating in young people for which the case-fatality rate is similar to seasonal flu, except daily covid-19 cases are a fraction of the daily influenza cases in a mild flu season (about 20,000 vs. 133,000 per day). …

The domestic threat of covid-19 is markedly reduced. Given the contribution of natural immunity, the United States has much higher levels of population immunity than our vaccination rates suggest, with upward of 85 percent of adults now immune.

My research brief updated the herd immunity estimates for North Carolina, finding “estimated 75.3% of adult North Carolinians have vaccine-induced or natural immunity from Covid-19. … Furthermore, including vaccinated and naturally immune children (18 and under) into the mix, North Carolina is at 70.9% immunity. As a reminder, it is widely accepted that herd immunity from Covid-19 is with at least 70% of people immune.”

Jon Sanders / Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...