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VERIFY: Yes, some of the deadliest days in US history have happened in December 2020

A viral chart shows daily COVID-19 deaths this month surpassing Pearl Harbor and nearing 9/11, but some additional context is needed.

A viral image comparing the “deadliest days in American history” has tolls from the Galveston Hurricane, the Civil War battle of Antietam and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The post then lists four days between December 2-7, 2020, that it says now rank among the deadliest for the U.S.

THE QUESTION:

Have we seen some of the deadliest days in U.S. history in December 2020? Is this claim accurate?

THE ANSWER:

Yes. The post leaves out a few key historical events and other context, but that doesn't change the core claim about December 2020 having some of the deadliest days in U.S. history.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that since the start of December, COVID-19 deaths have placed at least five days in the top 10 deadliest in American history.

WHAT WE FOUND:

The chart numbers are accurate or at least within estimated ranges.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirms that the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was estimated to have killed about 8,000 people.

National Park Service records confirm that the Civil War battle at Antietam resulted in about 3,600 deaths and that the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in about 2,400 deaths.

The final “9/11 Commission Report” estimated that nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The COVID-19 deaths, which are ranked numbers 4 through 7 on the list, are pulled directly from the CDC’s “COVID Data Tracker.”

While the numbers in the image are accurate, the graph does leave out three different events that would currently still rank higher:

  • The flu pandemic in 1918. Exact daily death counts from the 1918 pandemic are not available, but the CDC estimates that in October 1918 alone, roughly 195,000 people died from the virus. That comes to an average 6,300 deaths per day and it’s likely the peak numbers were higher. 

  • The Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. The fight lasted three days with an estimated casualty number of 7,000-10,000. Estimates say the deadliest day of combat likely saw upwards of 3,000 deaths.

  • The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 is estimated to have resulted in 3,000 deaths. 

Also, the chart is titled "Deadliest Days in American History," but is more about specific events than days. The numbers do not include deaths that happened on those days that are not specifically tied to those events. 

Despite the omissions of certain historical events, the core claim of the chart is accurate. Since December 2020 started, we’ve seen multiple days of COVID-19 deaths that would rank in the top 10 deadliest days in U.S. history.

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