The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that the coronavirus was the third-leading cause of death in 2020, driving the national mortality rate up nearly 16% from the year before.
“In 2020, about 3.3 million deaths occurred in the United States. Overall, this represents a 16% increase in deaths from 2019,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday. “COVID ranked as the third leading underlying cause of death.”
The CDC report Wednesday found that the U.S. mortality rate increased 15.9% in 2020 from the previous year, primarily among seniors and people with underlying health conditions. Deaths were highest among adults 85 and older, as well as non-Hispanic Black populations. In fact, CDC tracking shows that seniors over 65 accounted for more than 80% of deaths due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 was identified as the cause of 11.3% of all deaths in 2020, making it the third-most deadly disease, behind cancer (with more than 598,900 deaths) and heart disease (with roughly 691,000 deaths), the agency reported.
“Among nearly all of these ethnic and racial minority groups, the COVID-19-related deaths were more than double the death rate of non-Hispanic white persons,” Walensky said.
The federal government first prioritized seniors over 65 for the first deliveries of coronavirus vaccines earlier this year. As the production and distribution of doses have sped up, shots have become more accessible to seniors at local pharmacies and community health centers. The U.S. is poised to have a surplus by the end of May.
Over 70% of people over 65 have received at least one dose, Walensky said. This progress is reflected in the changes that hospitals are seeing in the ages of patients admitted with COVID-19 symptoms. CDC tracking shows that the majority of coronavirus patients admitted to hospitals over the past month have ranged in age from 18 to 64.
U.S. public health officials have warned that the U.S. appears to be on the cusp of a fourth surge as weekly declines in new case rates have plateaued at around 55,000 new confirmed infections per day. Deaths, meanwhile, have maintained a relatively steady decline since late February, suggesting that a fourth surge will prove less deadly than those seen last year.