State of the Facts
From 1980 to 2019, between eight and nine people per 1,000 have died each year in the United States. In 2019, the most recent year with official death estimates, 2,854,838 Americans died, and 3,747,540 were born. That means that 8.7 people died per 1,000 that year — up from a low of 7.9 deaths per 1,000 people in 2009.
Due to lag time in reporting, official data on 2020 deaths will likely not be released until late 2021 or early 2022. However, preliminary weekly data can provide estimates of how the pandemic affected deaths in the US in 2020.
For more information on how many people died in the US in 2021, see the latest report from USAFacts.
More than 350,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in 2020. According to preliminary weekly data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (as of April 26, 2021), 3,427,321 people died from all causes in 2020.
In comparison, 2,854,838 people died in 2019, meaning at least 572,000 more people died in 2020 than 2019 according to preliminary estimates. Using the estimate of the 2020 population from the Census Bureau, the death rate in 2020 was 10.4 deaths per 1,000, the highest death rate since 1943. However, the recent population estimate does not incorporate the results of the 2020 Census.
For context, the most recent estimates from the Census Bureau, which are from 2017, projected that there would be 2.75 million deaths in 2020, accounting for an aging population. The Census Bureau did not expect the nation to reach 3.4 million deaths until 2035 or 2036.
Deaths in 2020 were above average for almost every age group compared to 2015-2019, according to preliminary data from the CDC. Deaths were around average levels for people 25 and younger, which is the age group least affected by COVID-19 deaths. Total deaths in this age group were actually slightly below average during lockdowns at the start of the pandemic. This may be because travel was down, perhaps reducing the leading cause of death for this age group — accidents.
However, deaths were 20-50% above average levels for most age groups. Deaths among people 25-44 were particularly above normal for much of the year, since deaths among people this young are generally low.
COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020, after heart disease and cancer. According to the CDC data, heart disease killed 705,000 people in 2020, cancer killed 609,000, and COVID-19 killed 356,000. Accounting for the change in population, both cancer and heart disease deaths were higher in 2020 than 2019.
Weekly flu and pneumonia deaths were higher at the beginning of the year during the end of the 2019-20 flu season, though flu deaths were not nearly as high as the 2017-18 season, when an estimated 61,000 died of the flu alone. For comparison, the CDC estimates that 34,000 died in the 2018-19 flu season, and 22,000 died in the 2019-20 season.
Flu cases generally peak between December and February, so it remains to be seen if deaths due to flu and pneumonia will be significantly lower in the 2020-21 season due to increased public health measures in response to the pandemic. However, the CDC continues to report that flu activity is lower than usual. For example, between October 1, 2020 and April 17, 2021, a sampling of sites showed that the cumulative hospitalization rate for the flu was 0.8 per 100,000 people, which is much lower than average.
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