While deaths from heart disease and other illnesses should have increased slightly because of the aging of the population, “this is way up and beyond what we would expect,” Dr. Anderson added.
In a second report issued Wednesday, he and his colleagues scrutinized 378,000 death certificates in 2020 that listed Covid-19 as a factor to determine whether too many deaths had been erroneously attributed to the coronavirus. In the early days of the pandemic, testing was sporadic and patients often died of what initially seemed unrelated causes, like heart attacks.
But the researchers found that the virus was in fact the underlying cause of death in the vast majority of the cases. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, people were claiming deaths were simply being attributed to Covid when people were dying of other causes,” Dr. Anderson said. “We show that’s not the case.”
The researchers’ examination of accompanying conditions on death certificates, like pneumonia or respiratory failure, and contributing conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes, were consistent with what doctors see in patients who die of Covid-19.
Covid-19 death rates were highest among men; elderly people aged 85 and over; and Native American, Alaska Native and Hispanic individuals. Over all, the highest age-adjusted death rates for all causes were seen among the elderly; Black, Native American or Alaska Native individuals; and men.