COVID Leading Cause of Death in Arizona,
Study Says

Ralph Ellis

October 29, 2021

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

COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in Arizona during the coronavirus pandemic, while it's only the third leading cause of death in two states with similar populations and the United States as a whole, says a study by the Arizona Public Health Association.

The APHA study said Arizona recorded more than 20,000 COVID-related deaths from March 2020 to mid-October 2021. Previously, heart disease had been the leading cause of death.

Arizona has a population of about 7.2 million. Washington state, which has a similar population, recorded about 8,200 COVID-related deaths. Colorado, which has about 1.5 million fewer people than Arizona, recorded about 7,900 COVID-related deaths, the report said.

The three states had similar rates for other causes of death, according to a story about the report in The Arizona Mirror.

An APHA official says Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's failure to embrace strict COVID mitigation policies contributed to Arizona having more COVID deaths than Colorado and Washington state. Governors in those states enacted state mask mandates, and Washington state now requires all public employees to be vaccinated.

"You can split hairs on the demographics, but the big differences are the policy changes," Will Humble, executive director of APHA, told The Arizona Mirror. He said Colorado and Washington state "have thoughtful governors who put forward evidence-based policies."

Ducey's office did not respond to The Arizona Mirror's request to comment on the story.

Steve Elliot, communications director for the Arizona Department of Health Services, defended the state's efforts, noting that the ADHS consistently advocated masking and other mitigation efforts "as per CDC guidance." 

"Arizona enacted strong measures involving high-risk businesses such as gyms, bars, movie theaters, and water parks," Elliott told the Arizona Mirror. "Bars that couldn't operate as dine-in restaurants had to remain closed until conditions warranted lifting those restrictions. Masks and occupancy restrictions were some of the mitigation measures required for these high-risk establishments, with ADHS maintaining a complaint and inspection system to follow-up on reports of noncompliance."

Ducey has been slow to embrace masking rules and other efforts to curb the spread of the virus, The Mirror reported, and threatened legal action against cities that enacted masking mandates of their own.

He dropped a state masking rule for schools in April, drawing criticism from the state school superintendent who called the decision an example of Arizona's "embarrassing response" to the pandemic. In March, Ducey lifted capacity limits for gyms, restaurants, and several other types of businesses, a move criticized by big hospital chains in the state as being premature.


Arizona Public Health Association: "COVID-19 as the Leading Cause of Death in Arizona During the Pandemic: An Evidence Review."

Arizona Mirror: "Analysis finds COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in Arizona."

AZ Governor: "Governor Ducey Acts On COVID-19 Measures In Schools."

Associated Press: "Arizona governor lifts capacity limits at gyms, restaurants."


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