Coronavirus the Third-Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

Ralph Ellis

August 18, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread so rapidly since the first U.S. case was reported January 20 that it's now the third-leading cause of death in the country, Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN.

"Covid is now the No. 3 cause of death in the US ― ahead of accidents, injuries, lung disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and many, many other causes," Frieden said.

The CDC says heart disease and cancer are the first and second leading causes of death.

The coronavirus has caused more than 170,000 deaths in the United States and has been taking more than 1,000 lives weekly for several weeks, Frieden said.

"Last week, Americans were eight times more likely to get killed by Covid than were Europeans," he said.

The number of deaths ― and cases ― in the United States may be undercounted because not enough people are tested, experts have said.

How many people are expected to die of the virus?

Using information collected as of August 10, the CDC predicted that 180,000 to 200,000 people in the United States will die by September 5 because of the coronavirus. That prediction was based on forecasts received from 31 modeling groups.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted August 6 that 300,000 people will die of the virus by December 1, according to a news release on the group's website.

But the IHME forecast is based on 50% of Americans wearing face masks. If 95% wore masks, the number of deaths could be cut by 66,000, the IHME said.

"We're seeing a rollercoaster in the United States," IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray said. "It appears that people are wearing masks and socially distancing more frequently as infections increase, then after a while as infections drop, people let their guard down and stop taking these measures to protect themselves and others ― which, of course, leads to more infections. And the potentially deadly cycle starts over again."


CNN. "Birx says she wishes US lockdown had resembled the one in Italy"

CDC. "COVID-19 Forecasts: Deaths"

IHME. "New IHME COVID-19 Forecasts See Nearly 300,000 Deaths by December 1"