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March 31, 2021

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in 2020, early CDC data shows

Only heart disease and cancer were responsible for more fatalities

Illness COVID-19
2020 Mortality Rate Brian Hayes/Statesman Journal

The coronavirus was responsible for about 11.3% of U.S. deaths in 2020, a preliminary CDC report finds. Above, home care workers in Oregon hold a candle-light vigil to mourn the loss of people killed by COVID-19, March 25, 2021.

The overall death rate in the United States increased by 15.9% last year as the coronavirus killed nearly 378,000 people, according to preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The death rate rose from 715.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019 to 828.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020. Both overall deaths and COVID-19 fatalities were highest in April and December

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death, accounting for about 11.3% of the 3.36 million deaths reported to the CDC so far. Here are the top 10 leading causes of death in 2020, according to the report

1. Heart disease
2. Cancer
3. COVID-19
4. Unintentional injury
5. Stroke
6. Chronic lower respiratory disease
7. Alzheimer's disease
8. Diabetes
9. Influenza and pneumonia
10. Kidney disease

Heart disease was responsible for 690,882 deaths. Cancer caused 598,932 deaths. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in 2019, but that doesn't appear to be the case for 2020, the researchers said.

The CDC report also found that Black and Indigenous people had the highest overall death rates while the COVID-19 death rate was highest among Hispanic people. 

The researchers noted that new information could change the projected death rates.

The CDC's National Vital Statistics System collects annual mortality statistics using data from U.S. death certificates. Because of the time needed to investigate causes of death, it could take until the end of the year before all of 2020's data is available. 

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't just been impacted the country's mortality rate, the CDC says. It has also caused a drop in life expectancy.

A February report by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics found that life expectancy dropped a full year to 77.8 years in the first six months of 2020. COVID-19 was a significant contributing factor.

Public health officials are hopeful that the tide of COVID-19 cases and deaths will ebb as national vaccination efforts ramp up. But the coronavirus has claimed the lives of 548,162 people in the U.S. since the pandemic began. 

So far, 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S., according the CDC's COVID Data Tracker.

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