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Covid was third leading cause of death in U.S. last year, behind heart disease and cancer, CDC says


The body of a patient who died is seen as healthcare workers treat people infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, U.S., December 30, 2020.

Callaghan O’Hare | Reuters

The coronavirus was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were more than 3.3 million deaths reported in the U.S. last year, a 16% increase over 2019, according to early data compiled by the National Vital Statistics System, which examines and reports annual mortality statistics using death certificates. The deadliest weeks last year were at the beginning of the pandemic and then in the middle of the holiday surge during the weeks ending April 11 with 78,917 fatalities and Dec. 26 when 80,656 people died, the CDC found.

According to the study released Wednesday, Covid-19 was listed as the underlying cause for 345,323 deaths, killing more Americans than unintentional injuries, strokes, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia and kidney disease.

Only heart disease and cancer killed more people in the U.S. than Covid-19 in 2020 — heart disease killed 690,882 people and cancer killed 598,932.

Covid-19 replaced suicide among the top 10 leading cause of death in the U.S., the study found. Overall, the annual death rate increased by nearly 16% in 2020 compared with a year earlier, the first time it’s grown since 2017, the CDC said.

The highest annual death rates were reported among men, people ages 85 and older, and people who are non-Hispanic Black and American Indian and Alaskan Native, the CDC said.

However, when looking at Covid-19 alone, Hispanic and American Indian and Alaskan Native people, as well as those ages 85 and older, died from the disease at higher rates compared with every other group. Men died from Covid-19 at a higher rate than women.

The agency’s early findings were published months ahead of schedule due to “improvements in timeliness and the pressing need for updated, quality data during the global COVID-19 pandemic,” researchers wrote.

It typically takes researchers 11 months after the end of the calendar year to investigate “certain causes of death and to process and review data.” While the daily total Covid death figures reported by the CDC are timely, they can underestimate the actual number of deaths because of “incomplete or delayed reporting.”

“Provisional death estimates provide an early indication of shifts in mortality trends and can guide public health policies and interventions aimed at reducing numbers of deaths that are directly or indirectly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” researchers wrote.

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