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Coronavirus was 2020’s third-leading cause of death in U.S. as death rate spiked: CDC

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Coronavirus was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. last year as the country’s death rate spiked by more than 15%, the CDC reported Wednesday.

COVID-19 was listed as the underlying cause — or a contributing cause of death — of 377,883 deaths during 2020. The virus was the third leading underlying cause of death after heart disease (690,882 deaths) and cancer (598,932), according to the CDC’s provisional death data.


Overall, more than 3.3 million deaths occurred in the U.S. last year, a significant jump of nearly 16% in deaths from 2019.

The virus accounted for about 11% of all deaths in the U.S. in 2020.

“The data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us to continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and get people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during Wednesday’s White House COVID-19 Response Team press briefing.

“I know this is not easy, and so many of us are frustrated with the disruption this pandemic has had on our everyday lives, but we can do this as a nation working together,” she added.

The COVID-19 death rate was highest for older adults and men, and the death rate was highest among Hispanics. Overall death rates were highest among non-Hispanic Black persons and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native persons.

“Sadly, based on the current state of the pandemic, these impacts have remained in 2021, where we continue to see that communities of color account for an outsized portion of these deaths,” the CDC director said.


Since the pandemic started, the U.S. has reported more than 550,000 COVID deaths as of Wednesday. Massachusetts has reported a total of 17,148 coronavirus deaths.


The highest numbers of overall deaths and COVID-19 deaths occurred in April and December — during the first surge last spring and the fall wave during the holiday season.

The CDC notes that the limited availability of coronavirus testing at the beginning of the pandemic may have resulted in an underestimate of COVID-19 deaths.

“These data can guide public health policies and interventions aimed at reducing numbers of deaths that are directly or indirectly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and among persons most affected, including those who are older, male, or from disproportionately affected racial/ethnic minority groups,” the CDC said in its report.