Home / Health / Articles / Preliminary data shows a higher death rate and an increase in excess deaths in 2021

In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, preliminary CDC data shows there were 3.4 million deaths in the US, 17% higher than what was expected for the year.

With nearly 500,000 more deaths than what was expected, the excess death rate for 2021 was three percentage points higher than in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. The overall death rate for 2021 was also 2% higher than 2020 and 19% higher than in 2019.

Excess deaths compare the expected number of deaths in a place over a given time to the actual number of deaths that occurred.

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According to the data, COVID-19 was either a primary cause or one of multiple contributing causes of 467,000 deaths in 2021. This was an increase of nearly 100,000 deaths compared to 2020.

COVID-19 was responsible for almost all excess deaths in 2021. If COVID-19 deaths are excluded from the analysis, the number of observed deaths in 2021 was less than one percent above what was expected.

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Every state except Rhode Island had  excess deaths in 2021. With 29% more deaths than expected, Arizona had the highest rate of excess deaths.

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The data also suggests that other leading causes of death — including heart disease and cancer — led to fewer deaths than in previous years.

As an underlying (or primary) cause of death, COVID-19 ranked third behind heart disease and cancer in 2020 and 2021. Deaths in all three categories increased between 2019 and 2020. Though the data for 2021 is preliminary and partial, deaths where COVID-19 was the main cause of death increased 10% in 2021, while heart disease and cancer deaths dropped 7% and 5% respectively. COVID-19 was the top cause of death during three months of the pandemic: December 2020, January 2021, and September 2021.

COVID-19 accounted for 17% of the nearly 83,000 observed deaths in Arizona. Only Texas had a higher share of COVID-19 deaths at 18%.

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While deaths from COVID-19 increased from 2020 to 2021, the ages of those who died did not change at the same rate. More younger people died from COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020.

The number of those deaths among people 45 to 64 years old increased 73%. And the number of deaths for people 20 to 45 years old more than doubled between 2020 and 2021.

The number of COVID-19 deaths for people 65 and older — who were among the first to be eligible for vaccination — dropped 7% between 2020 and 2021. (The 65 and over population accounted for 81% of COVID-19 deaths in 2020 and 68% in 2021.)

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While the current CDC data is provisional and incomplete, it does show COVID-19’s impact on deaths in the US. The increase in deaths has implications for other metrics including population change and life expectancy. Track these data points, as well as up to date COVID-19 metrics including vaccinations, cases, and deaths.

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Provisional Mortality Statistics, 2018 through Last Month
Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19