COVID-19 was not the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020: Here’s what was

Heart disease and cancer took more lives in 2020 than COVID-19

With all the publicity surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, you might be surprised to learn that COVID-19 was only the third leading cause of death in the U.S.  in 2020 (claiming an estimated 340,000 lives), behind cancer (599,000) and heart disease (691,000). But those statistics are somewhat misleading, since the pandemic had not fully taken hold in the U.S. for the first two months of the year.

A more accurate count from the Center for Disease Control shows that, for the month of February, COVID was indeed the leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 2,477 lives. 2,068 people died of heart disease, and cancer claimed 1,639 lives in the month. Other killers: Alzheimer’s and dementia (826), stroke (434), diabetes (273) and influenza and pneumonia (146).  

The chart above illustrates that even when the pandemic was raging through the spring and summer, until last November, COVID was actually behind heart disease and cancer in terms of total morbidity, except for April, when the pandemic briefly took more lives than cancer (but not heart disease). As the vaccine rollout progresses, the pink line in the graph should drop down toward zero, leaving us with the traditional things to worry about once again.


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