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COVID-19 becomes 4th leading killer of Ohioans

Jake Zuckerman, Ohio Capital Journal

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Photo Credit: University Hospitals

COVID-19 is the 4th leading killer of Ohioans this year when compared to 2019 mortality data.

It could quickly become the third, depending on what happens in the three final weeks remaining in 2020.

As of Sunday, 7,492 Ohioans have died from COVID-19, the first having died March 1, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.

That’s about 2.5-times the national death toll of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (2,996) or the number of Ohioans who died in the Vietnam War (2,997).

The death toll surpasses the seating capacity (7,000) of the Taft Coliseum at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus.

The leading causes of death of Ohioans in 2019, per ODH data, were:

  • Heart disease (29,159)
  • Cancer (25,166)
  • Accidents (8,291)
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases (7,168)
  • Cerebrovascular diseases (6,504)
  • Alzheimer’s (5,235)
  • Diabetes (3,876)

“I think that’s very notable. It’s devastating,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, of COVID-19’s national ascendance as a leading cause of death.

“We have this preventable disease that we could have prevented from spreading.”

Ohio’s deaths are heavily, though not exclusively, concentrated among Ohio’s elders. Nearly 80% of the dead were aged 70 or older when they died. More than 4,000 deaths occurred among residents of long-term care facilities.

However, the young have not been spared.

At least 181 Ohioans younger than 50 years old have died of COVID-19 as of Sunday. Nearly 6,400 in the age range have been hospitalized.

ODH data shows on Dec. 1, Ohio broke a record for most COVID-19 deaths in a single day — 69. The prior peak came April 28, when 64 died.

A major difference between peak death levels of the spring versus today is the corresponding case rates. In late April, about 600 Ohioans were infected per day on average. In early December, about 9,000 were (this figure is likely to rise as delayed data rolls in).

But why are death levels just now reaching the old peaks of the spring?

Mina, speaking to reporters Friday, attributed this to a number of factors: Doctors have learned better techniques to care for patients and have new drugs like remdesivir and dexamethasone at their disposal; states have done an “ok” job keeping the virus out of nursing homes; and younger people are increasingly driving the new cases, who bear a much lower risk in death.

The year’s precise pandemic death toll won’t be finalized in Ohio until at least July 2021, according to Melanie Amato, an ODH spokeswoman.

Nearly 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 this year, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine, a landmark human health achievement. However, supply of the vaccine will likely be thin for months. Officials say now, amid the largest case surge to date as the first vaccines go out, is perhaps the most important time to adopt measures like regular testing, robust contact tracing, isolation and masking.

“Now is not the time to say the vaccine is here, let’s not worry anymore,” Mina said.

Speaking to The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, last week, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said it’s a “sobering” fact that COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in the U.S. today.

“We are in the time frame now that, probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had on 9/11 or Pearl Harbor,” he said. “This is going to be a real unfortunate loss of life as all that we’ve had so far and the reality is the vaccine’s approval is not going to impact that to any degree for the next 60 days.”


This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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