COVID-19 is now the main reason behind dying within the U.S.

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COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to an editorial published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The statement from three Virginia Commonwealth University researchers cites current daily death rates to show that COVID-19 has now outpaced heart disease and cancer as the leading daily cause of death in the United States

“It has been a long time since an infectious disease was the leading cause of death across the country,” said senior author Dr. Steven Woolf, emeritus director of the VCU Center for Society and Health. “And it is a tragic milestone that we could have prevented.”

By October, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in people ages 45 to 84 and the second leading cause of death in people over the age of 85. However, these numbers were a sum of the past eight months.

Since November, the weekly average daily COVID-19 deaths has tripled from 826 to 2,430 deaths per day, Woolf writes. Heart disease and cancer, which have been the leading causes of death for decades, cause approximately 1,700 and 1,600 deaths per day, respectively.

“There were waves in the spring and summer that targeted certain regions of the country, but nothing like the national wave we’re seeing,” Woolf said.

The editorial gives context to the rising death toll reported in the news. According to Woolf, the current death rate from COVID-19 is equivalent to 15 planes crashing every day, carrying 150 passengers each.

“There’s a daily drumbeat of stats that people watch on TV every day and they go numb,” said Woolf, who serves in a community engagement role at the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research . “On television it’s numbers, but each of these cases is a mother, father, brother or sister who has died.”

And Woolf writes that the numbers may underestimate the threat posed by COVID-19. For one thing, infection rates rise and the more the virus spreads, the more people it infects.

Perhaps more importantly, the numbers don’t include the excess deaths that were not accounted for by the official death toll. Reporting delays, miscodes and deaths due to disruption caused by the pandemic could make the actual numbers 20% higher than those publicly reported, Woolf writes.

Disorders mean secondary health effects such as late surgery, missed doctor’s appointments, the socio-economic impact of isolation and job loss, and more, which have resulted in higher death rates from causes other than COVID-19 in recent years.

“The point is, this loss of life is preventable. If you look in the rearview mirror, so many of the deaths that have already occurred could be avoided,” said Woolf, professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health at VCU Medical School.

“Looking to the future offers hope for the vaccine, but it doesn’t come fast enough to save the people who are dying now,” Woolf said. “There is an urgent need for Americans to wear masks seriously, socially distance themselves, and avoid large gatherings or we’ll see more alarming numbers and COVID-19 will remain a leading cause of death for far too long.”

Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director of the Center for Society and Health; and Jong Hyung Lee, graduate assistant to the center and Ph.D. The candidate from the VCU Department of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health joined Woolf as the authors of the article.

The opinion piece is the culmination of summer research by Woolf, Chapman, and their colleagues at the center. It follows a JAMA research letter published in October that reported that for every two deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the United States, a third American dies from the aftermath of the pandemic. The October data is based on a July research letter also published in JAMA, which shows excessive deaths from the pandemic in March and April.

“An American is now dying of COVID-19 every 40 seconds,” said Dr. Peter Buckley, Dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “Dr. Woolf, Dr. Chapman and the Center for Society and Health team carefully cataloged the tragic aftermath of the pandemic this summer. That this virus is the leading cause of death in the US is a sobering milestone that I hope I reiterate for all Americans understand the importance of following safety protocols. ”

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More information:
COVID-19 as the leading cause of death in the US. JAMA. Published online December 17, 2020. DOI: 10.1001 / jama.2020.24865 Provided by Virginia Commonwealth University

Quote: COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the US (2020, December 18) and was accessed from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-covid-death.html on December 18, 2020

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