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Only heart disease and cancer caused more deaths than COVID-19 in the United States last year

By Eric Todisco
March 31, 2021 04:51 PM
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COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the United States last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a new report published Wednesday.

The deadly virus, which is still spreading rapidly across the globe, killed approximately 375,000 people in the U.S. in 2020, the report said. Only heart disease and cancer, which caused 690,000 deaths and 598,000 deaths, respectively, in the country last year, were above COVID-19 on the top ten list.

Also on the CDC's list was unintentional injury, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia and kidney disease. Suicide, which has long been a top ten cause of death in the U.S., was no longer on the list in 2020 due to COVID-19.

The ongoing pandemic also accelerated the U.S. death rate from 2019 to 2020 by 15.9% with 715.2 to 828.7 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. (In total, 3.3 million deaths occurred last year in the U.S.)

The CDC's report, which comes from the organization's National Center for Health Statistics, also found that death rates were highest among the Black and Native American or Alaska Native communities, adults ages 85 and older and men.

"We continue to see that communities of color account for an outsized portion of these deaths," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a news briefing Wednesday. "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."

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The CDC's grim report comes as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are back on the rise, despite the country's vaccine rollout accelerating. There are currently three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, being administered in the U.S.

During a White House briefing on Monday, Dr. Walensky warned of a possible fourth COVID-19 wave, nothing that while "there's so much reason for hope" right now, several "disturbing trends" have left her feeling "scared."

"We have come such a long way. Three historic scientific breakthrough vaccines and we are rolling them out so fast. I'm speaking today not necessarily as your CDC Director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer," she said. "I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet."

Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Dr. Rochelle Walensky
| Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The COVID-19 vaccines, which are being administered in mass numbers each day, have shown promising results: a recent CDC study showed that Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines, both of which require two doses, are "highly effective" at reducing the risk of infection from COVID-19.

Currently, there are 11 states — Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia — that allow anyone 16 and up to make a vaccine appointment, and several more states, including New York and California, have said that they will do the same by mid-April.

As of March 31, more than a quarter of the U.S. population — 97,593,290 people — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 54,607,041 people, or 16.4%, are full vaccinated, according to the CDC.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.