2020 is the deadliest year in US history – and is attributed mostly to the coronavirus pandemic.
The US is on course to surpass 3.2 million overall deaths in 2020, according to preliminary data, which would mark the first time figures have topped three million.
A rise in deaths between 20,000 and 50,000 is not unusual due to the country’s ageing and growing population – but the increase this year is thought to be closer to 400,000.
This sort of increase – a jump of around 15% from 2019 – would mark the biggest single-year percentage leap since 1918, when hundreds of thousands of lives were lost due to the First World War and Spanish flu.
That was a 46% rise from 1917.
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The US is also in the middle of a rapidly growing wave of the pandemic, which saw it’s deadliest week last week after 18,000 people died – the equivalent of one American dying every 33 seconds, according to Reuters.
More than 318,000 people in the US have so far died with COVID-19.
Before the outbreak of the disease, America’s mortality rate had actually fallen in 2019 after a drop in heart disease and cancer deaths, while life expectancy rose around six weeks to 78.8 years.
Robert Anderson, who oversees death statistics at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said 2019 was “a pretty good year for mortality” as he noted 2020 would likely wipe that record.
He said this year could actually drop life expectancy by three years.
COVID-19 is currently the third leading cause of death in the US, having had stints as the biggest killer. It is currently behind heart disease and cancer only.
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According to Mr Anderson, there have also been an unexpected number of deaths from heart and circulatory diseases, diabetes and dementia, which may have been caused by COVID-19 further weakening an already sick patient.
Diminished care may, too, have been a contribution.
Suicides, meanwhile, dropped in 2019, but Mr Anderson noted that early information suggests this would not be the case this year.
Drug overdoses are also a huge problem, with the CDC reporting more than 81,000 such deaths in the 12 months ending in May – the highest ever number in a single-year period. Data for all of 2020 is not yet available.
It’s not clear what has caused this rise, although the US was already in the middle of its deadliest drug epidemic before the pandemic hit.
Experts have suggested that the spread of COVID-19 may have increased the amount of times people are taking drugs alone, meaning no one is around to call emergency services in the case of an overdose.
More harmful toxins may also have been mixed with drugs to make up for breaks in the dealers’ supply chains.
“I don’t suspect there are a bunch of new people who suddenly started using drugs because of COVID,” said Shannon Monnat, a Syracuse University researcher who studies drug overdose trends.
“If anything, I think the supply of people who are already using drugs is more contaminated.”
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