Excess Deaths Due to the Pandemic Have Been the Highest in the African American Community

A new study by researchers at the School of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond found that the number of deaths in the United States in 2020 rose by 23 percent. In a normal year, the number of deaths typically rises by 1 or 2 percent. Black Americans experienced the highest per capita excess death rate.

Deaths officially tabulated as resulting from the virus accounted for 72 percent of the excess deaths, the authors calculated. Disruptions caused by the pandemic were another cause of the 28 percent of excess deaths not attributed to COVID-19. Examples might include deaths resulting from not seeking or finding adequate care in an emergency such as a heart attack, experiencing fatal complications from a chronic disease such as diabetes, or facing a behavioral health crisis that led to suicide or drug overdose.

The percentage of excess deaths among non-Hispanic Black individuals (16.9 percent) exceeded their share of the U.S. population (12.5 percent), reflecting racial disparities in mortality due to COVID-19 and other causes of death in the pandemic.

“We found a disproportionate number of excess deaths among the Black population in the United States,” said Steven H. Woolf, who holds the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Population Health and Health Equity at Virginia Commonwealth Univerity and is the lead author of the study. “This, of course, is consistent with the evidence about COVID-19 but also indicates that excess deaths from some conditions other than COVID-19 are also occurring at higher rates in the African American population.”

The full study, Excess Deaths From COVID-19 and Other Causes in the US, March 1, 2020, to January 2, 2021,” was published on the website of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It may be accessed here.


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