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Just over a year ago, it didn't have a name. But by the end of 2020, COVID-19 had become the third leading cause of death in the U.S., trailing only heart disease and cancer and replacing suicide as one of the top 10 causes of death.
About 3.4 million deaths occurred overall in the U.S. last year, according to provisional data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and COVID-19 was reported as the underlying cause or a contributing cause for approximately 378,000 (about 11 percent) of those deaths. Heart disease accounted for an estimated 690,000 deaths, while roughly 598,000 Americans died from cancer.
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"This is a pretty big deal,” says Justin Lessler, an associate professor in the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I mean, to have a cause of death that was not even a cause of death that we would list in January of 2020 be the third leading cause of death over the course of the year is pretty exceptional.”
Top 10 Causes of Death in 2020
- Heart disease
- Unintentional injury
- Chronic lower respiratory disease
- Alzheimer's disease
- Influenza and pneumonia
- Kidney disease
Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (data is provisional and may change)
Deaths hit older adults, minorities the hardest
Older adults and communities of color were most impacted by COVID-19 deaths last year. According to CDC data, deaths from the new disease were highest among Americans 85 and older. To date, more than 95 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in people age 50-plus. Also, more men than women died from COVID-19, the report shows.
Looking at racial and ethnic breakdowns, the COVID-19 death rate was highest among Hispanics and American Indian and Alaska Natives. Black Americans and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders also experienced a disproportionate rate of deaths from COVID-19.