On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data regarding the causes of mortality in the United States during 2020, showing that COVID-19 ranked third.
The CDC report was done by the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System that uses U.S. death certificates in order to provide statistics about annual mortality. It stated that the “COVID-19 pandemic caused approximately 375,000 deaths in the United States during 2020. …Overall death rates were highest among non-Hispanic Black persons and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native persons … the COVID-19 death rate was highest among Hispanics.”
April and December saw the highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths and overall deaths.
The rates and numbers of COVID-19 deaths “include deaths for which COVID-19 was listed on the death certificate as a confirmed or presumed underlying cause of death or contributing cause of death.” COVID-19 was reportedly “the underlying cause of approximately 91% (345,323) of COVID-19-associated deaths during 2020.”
COVID-19 was given as the underlying cause of 345,323 deaths during the year of 2020, making it the third leading underlying cause of death, following heart disease (690,882 deaths) and cancer (598,932). It caused more deaths than unintentional injury, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease. Between mid-April to the end of December, COVID-19 deaths were recorded at higher numbers than “[o]ther deaths” over the same time periods.
From 2019 to 2020, the age-adjusted death rate is estimated to have increased by 15.9%. The highest age-adjusted death rate broken up by age, race/ethnicity, and sex happened with people over 85 years of age, “non-Hispanic Black or African American (Black) and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) persons, and males.” COVID-19 death rates were seen to be the highest in adults over the age of 85, “AI/AN and Hispanic persons, and males.”
The report included information regarding rates of death from COVID-19 among different age groups and populations. It stated that COVID-19 death rates were the lowest in children ages 1-4 years old and 5-14 years old. The rates were highest among people who were over the age of 85. It stated, “Similar to the rate of overall deaths, the age-adjusted COVID-19-associated death rate among males (115.0) was higher than that among females (72.5).”
With COVID-19 as the third leading “underlying cause of death” in 2020, it replaced suicide as one of the 10 leading causes of death. The report stated that there are limitations to the findings provided by the data, including the fact that numbers might change as more information is provided. It also made the point that classifications for causes of death could be wrong. It pointed to a lack of testing availability for the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic as a reason that the estimation of lower numbers of COVID-19-associated deaths could be under the true numbers.
In response to what this information can provide for the practice and patterns of public health, the CDC stated, “Provisional death estimates provide an early indication of shifts in mortality trends. Timely and actionable data can guide public health policies and interventions for populations experiencing higher numbers of deaths that are directly or indirectly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker shows that COVID-19 deaths have been dropping at a dramatic rate since the end of January. There have been some small spikes, but reported deaths from the virus are continuing in a steep downward trend.
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