The coronavirus pandemic is set to make 2020 the deadliest year in US history.
While final data will not be available for months, preliminary numbers suggest the US saw more than 3.2 million deaths this year, which is at least 400,000 more than in 2019 — a figure that could still go higher, according to the Associated Press.
It marks a jump of 15%, the largest single-year percentage leap since 1918, when tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers died in World War I and hundreds of thousands died of Spanish flu.
As of Wednesday morning, COVID-19 has taken 322,849 lives in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with the country still seeing record spikes.
It has at times been the number one killer ahead of heart disease and cancer — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes it may be responsible for many more than those so far counted.
A burst of pneumonia cases early this year may have been COVID-19 deaths that simply weren’t recognized as such early in the epidemic, according to Robert Anderson, the CDC official who overseas death statistics.
An unexpected number of deaths from certain types of heart and circulatory diseases, diabetes and dementia may also be tied to the pandemic, attributed to patients already weakened by those conditions and diminished care they received because of lockdowns.
Suicide deaths dropped in 2019 compared with 2018, but Anderson said that the encouraging trend did not appear to have continued this year, a rise some attribute to the loneliness of lockdowns and exacerbation of existing mental health conditions.
Drug overdose deaths, meanwhile, also appear to have risen — with the 81,000 recorded in the 12 months ending in May, the highest number ever in a one-year period.
Experts blame the pandemic’s disruption to in-person treatment and recovery services, as well as people abusing drugs while home alone, without anyone able to call for help.
But perhaps the biggest factor is that COVID-19 caused supply problems for dealers, making them increasingly mixing cheap and deadly fentanyl into heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, experts said.
“I don’t suspect there are a bunch of new people who suddenly started using drugs because of COVID. If anything, I think the supply of people who are already using drugs is more contaminated,” said Shannon Monnat, a Syracuse University researcher who studies overdose trends.
With Post wires
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