By Ernie Mundell and Robin Foster
THURSDAY, April 1, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- In a finding that illustrates the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on America, a new government report confirms that COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death in 2020.
Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that more than 547,000 lives have been lost to COVID-19 since the pandemic began last spring. Only the two long-term biggest killers, heart disease and cancer, killed more Americans in 2020.
In 2020 alone, COVID-19 was the cause or a contributing factor in the deaths of 377,883 people in the United States, or just over 11% of the estimated 3.3 million people who passed away last year, CBS News reported. Meanwhile, heart disease caused 690,882 deaths and cancer caused 598,932 deaths.
The highest death rates from COVID-19 were recorded among those over 85, Native Americans, Hispanics and men, CBS News reported, with Hispanics being hit the hardest. The pandemic claimed nearly double the number of lives as "unintentional injuries," which was the third leading cause of death in 2019.
"The data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us [to] continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and get people vaccinated as soon as possible," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a media briefing Wednesday, NPR reported.
2020 was already the deadliest year in U.S. history. The CDC had recently estimated that average life expectancy plummeted an entire year during the first half of 2020, CBS News reported.
Some have questioned the CDC's death toll tally, which relies largely on state and local officials determining the cause of death, CBS News reported. But in a second report published in the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Wednesday, the CDC concluded that the tally of COVID-19 deaths was likely accurate. Examining the death certificate data, the agency found 97% of the cases had documented other details consistent with the disease, CBS News reported.
The reports come as the CDC has warned that a months-long decline in the rate of coronavirus deaths has stalled.