COVID-19 Ranks as a Leading Cause of Death in U.S.

December 17, 2020 – COVID-19 has become one of the leading causes of death in the United States in 2020, especially among people over 35, according to a new report published in JAMA Thursday.

Adults over 45 were more likely to die from COVID-19 than car crashes, respiratory illnesses, drug overdoses and suicide. And people over 55 faced even higher rates of death from the coronavirus.

“The current exponential rise in COVID-19 is reaching calamitous scale in the United States,” the authors wrote. “Putting these numbers into perspective can be difficult.”

Population health researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University are putting COVID-19 deaths in context by comparing this year’s numbers to leading causes of death from March to October 2018, sorting them by age.

By October 2020, COVID-19 had become the third leading cause of death globally among people aged 45 to 84, after heart disease and cancer. For people over 85, COVID-19 was the second leading cause of death, surpassing cancer and after heart disease.

For people aged 35 to 44, COVID-19 overtook car crashes and respiratory illnesses and was slightly lower in suicide, heart disease and cancer. For those under 35, drug overdoses, suicides and car accidents remained the leading causes of death.

Importantly, the authors wrote that the death rates for the two main causes – heart disease and cancer – are approximately 1,700 and 1,600 per day, respectively. Deaths from COVID-19 topped those numbers individually throughout December, and on Wednesday beat them together. More than 3,400 deaths have been reported, according to the COVID Tracking Project, marking an all-time high that continues to rise. Hospitalizations also hit a new high, with more than 113,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the country, and an additional 232,000 new cases have been reported.

“With death rates from COVID-19 now exceeding these thresholds, this infectious disease has become more deadly than heart disease and cancer,” the authors wrote. “Its lethality may further increase as transmission increases with travel and vacation gatherings and with the intensified indoor exposure that winter brings.”

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Jothi Venkat

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