COVID Likely the Third-Leading Cause of Death in US, CDC Says

Ralph Ellis

January 07, 2021

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

COVID-19 was probably the third leading cause of death in the United States during 2020, CNN reported, citing an email from statisticians with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We still only have provisional data through December 26. We should be getting more data in very soon," CDC statisticians said in the email. "To that point we estimate there were between 316,252 and 431,792 excess deaths in 2020.

"Our provisional death certificate data through that point show over 301,000 deaths involving COVID-19, which would likely place it 3rd among leading causes of death."

The CDC has said heart disease was the leading cause of death for years, followed by cancer and unintentional injuries.

The CDC statisticians said "there is enough distance" between cancer deaths and those caused by accidents or unintentional injuries "to be comfortable saying" that Covid-19 was the third leading cause for 2020, CNN reported.

The United States had recorded 357,258 coronavirus related deaths on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Thomas Frieden, MD, former director of the CDC, gave COVID-19 that same third-place ranking in an interview with CNN in August, when only about 170,000 Americans had died from coronavirus.

In October, JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) cited researchers who said adults over age 45 were more likely to die from COVID-19 than car crashes, respiratory diseases, drug overdoses, and suicide.

"The current exponential increase in COVID-19 is reaching a calamitous scale in the U.S.," the authors wrote in JAMA. "Putting these numbers in perspective may be difficult."


CNN. "Covid-19 likely ranks as the third leading cause of death in the US in 2020, CDC statisticians say"

Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center