COVID-19 was the third-most-common cause of death in the U.S. in 2020, contributing to more than 375,000 deaths, and a 16% increase in the national death rate, according to provisional data published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
All told, more than 3.3 million people in the U.S. died in 2020, for a rate of about 829 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s up from about 715 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear culprit. The weeks ending April 11 and December 26 were the deadliest for the U.S. last year, coinciding with two major COVID-19 surges.
The virus was listed as an underlying or contributing cause of death for more than 377,000 people in the U.S. in 2020—which is likely an underestimate, if anything, since testing was hard to come by in the spring of 2020. Only heart disease and cancer killed more Americans in 2020. Meanwhile, suicide was pushed out of the top 10 causes of death; unintentional injury, stroke, lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia and kidney disease rounded out the list.
Logically enough, death rates were highest among adults 85 or older and lowest among kids ages five to 14. While that was true across causes of death, COVID-19 certainly contributed to that gap. The CDC estimates that COVID-19 death rates are 7,900 times higher among adults older than 85 than they are among kids ages 5 to 17. Death rates were also higher among men than women, again consistent with COVID-19 trends.
Death rates varied widely across racial and ethnic groups, too. Overall death rates were highest among Black and American Indian/Alaska Native people, while COVID-19 death rates were highest among American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic people.
Though these figures are provisional and may change somewhat as the CDC’s data are finalized, they paint a stark picture. Last year marks the first since 2017 that the national death rate rose. It’s too soon to say whether the trend will continue in 2021, but COVID-19 remains a major cause of death both in the U.S. and globally. More than 550,000 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported in the U.S. since the pandemic began, and the virus continues to kill hundreds of people in the U.S. each day.
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Contributor: Jamie Ducharme