Minnesota reached an unwanted landmark this week when deaths from COVID-19 exceeded influenza deaths in every year since 2010 – the year that case-based counting for flu deaths started.
Minnesota's coronavirus death count rose to 452 on Tuesday, almost exactly two months after the first case was confirmed in the state and six-and-a-half weeks after the first death.
This made the outbreak more deadly than any of the flu seasons in the past 10 years, surpassing the most severe flu season in recent memory, 2017/18, in which 440 people died in Minnesota.
With flu seasons typically lasting six months, from October to April, COVID-19 has caused more deaths in a much shorter timeframe and deaths are still rising, with state leaders predicting Minnesota is still a month away from its peak.
Here are the figures for COVID-19 deaths compared to flu seasons since 2010-11.
COVID-19 – 485 deaths as of 4 p.m. May 5, 2020.
2010-11 – 59
2011-12 – 42
2012-13 – 193
2013-14 – 83
2014-15 – 368
2015-16 – 76
2016-17 – 273
2017-18 – 440
2018-19 – 126
2019-20 – 151
It was in 2010 that the Minnesota Department of Health started doing case-based surveillance for influenza deaths. Prior to this date, MDH says that its data is "estimate" based and so it's more difficult to accurately compare with COVID-19.
However, the MDH does have an estimate for the number of confirmed deaths caused by the H1N1 swine flu epidemic in 2009, which claimed 67 lives.
Furthermore, the criteria for a death being classed as a coronavirus death in Minnesota is stricter than a death being classed as influenza.
In Minnesota, a COVID-19 death is only confirmed as such when a positive test has been carried out on a patient, and their doctor/physician's assistant/registered nurse lists "COVID-19" or "coronavirus" as a cause of death on their death certificate.
For influenza, the death figures include those hospitalized with positive tests or those with "influenza" listed on the death certificate, but it also includes patients who weren't tested for flu, but who were associated with a "influenza and/or influenza-like illness" outbreak at a long-term care facility.
The MDH says that the broader criteria for flu deaths is in place to prevent flu deaths being significantly underreported, because historically healthcare providers have been more hesitant to class a death as flu without a positive test.
With COVID-19, all 485 deaths in Minnesota so far have followed a positive COVID-19 test, and even then health officials think this is an undercount as there are likely to have been multiple deaths from the virus earlier in the year, before testing became widely available.
Deaths in which COVID-19 is listed as "suspected," "probable" or "possible" on death certificates are counted separately, and are not included in the official coronavirus death count.