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2020 was a year like no other in recent history. In January of that year, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Washington state. By March, California was the first state to go into lockdown to reduce the spread of the virus.

The United States recently surpassed 600,000 deaths related to COVID. Here in California – often considered an epicenter for the pandemic – COVID significantly drove up the death rate in 2020 – and became one of the leading causes of death in the state.

While we are slowly moving away from restrictions and out of the pandemic, people throughout California continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, we break down the heartbreaking numbers behind causes of death in California in 2020 – and look to a more hopeful future.

Did COVID Cause Death Rates to Increase in California?

Over time, California’s death rate has slowly increased – which isn’t surprising, given how our state’s population has also increased in recent years. In 1989, a total of 230,134 Californians died from all causes – ranging from homicide to accidents to influenza and pneumonia. By 2018, that number had risen to 279,854 deaths across the state.

In 2019, fewer Californians died as compared to previous years – 270,952. However, by 2020, the number of deaths skyrocketed by nearly 50,000 to 320,382. Most of these deaths fell into the “other” category, with an increase of more than 26,000 deaths between 2019 and 20202 attributed to “other” causes.

According to scientists, between March 1 and August 22, 2020, 146,557 deaths were recorded in California. Based on historical trends, this number of deaths is higher than normal by nearly 20,000 (19,806). In particular, people aged 65 and older, Black and Latino Californians, and residents without a college degree had a higher rate of death in this time period.

The available data demonstrates that in 2020, deaths steadily rose for particular age groups. For example, in January 2020, 5,867 people aged 75 – 84 died. By December of that year, 9,637 people in that age group had died – during a month in which COVID was at its peak throughout much of the country.

For people of other age groups, the death rate rose – but not as significantly. For example, 689 people aged 35 to 44 died in January 2020. This number increased throughout 2020 – reaching 1,020 by July – before peaking at 1,171 in December.

Men in California seemed to be harder hit by the pandemic. In December 2020, 34,716 males died, compared to 24,978 in January. By contrast, 29,131 female Californians died in December 2020, compared to 22,181 in January of that same year.

In addition to age and gender, race is closely associated with higher death rates. While people of all ethnicities saw an increase in death in 2020, Latino Californians saw the highest rates of death throughout the year. Specifically, in December 2020, 17,357 Latinos passed away – compared to just 9,989 in January.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these deaths in 2020 occurred in hospitals. While the number of deaths in various locations – such as at home, in the emergency room or at a long-term care facility – remained fairly steady throughout the year, all deaths increased significantly in December. In that month, 15,907 Californians passed away while inpatient (compared to 8,497 in January).

These numbers demonstrate that California was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly later in 2020. These deaths have had a significant impact on the overall causes of death in the state in 2020.

How COVID Affected Causes of Death in 2020

When a death is recorded in California, the cause of death is attributed to one of 15 causes of death:

According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the cause of death is coded by looking at the disease or injury that initiated the train of events leading to death. For example, a person suffered from cancer, but ultimately died of respiratory disease that was caused by their cancer, their death would be attributed to cancer. In the same way, if a person developed pneumonia as a result of a COVID-19 infection, their death would be coded to “other.”

Most causes of death have stayed relatively stable over the years, or increased along with the population of California. For example, in 1989, there were 11,204 deaths related to unintentional injuries (such as car accidents). In 2019, there were 15,410 deaths that were attributed to accidents.

One cause of death significantly increased in 2020, however: “other.” COVID-19 deaths were typically attributed to “other,” rather than another category like influenza and pneumonia (which showed only a slight increase from 2019 to 2020 – 5,668 deaths in 2019 to 6,063 deaths in 2020). By contrast, there were 81,877 deaths listed as “other” in 2020 – and just 45,270 in 2019.

Since 2006, the “other” category has slightly increased – until it jumped significantly in 2020:

Significantly, 47,609 deaths in California in 2021 have been attributed to “other” – just halfway through the year.  While the rate of death due to COVID-19 has decreased due to vaccinations, 2021 has already recorded more deaths due to “other” in 2021 than in all of 2019.

In 2020, “other” was the leading cause of death in California. It is on pace to be the leading cause of death in California in 2021 as well. In a typical year, heart disease and cancer are the top causes of death in the state.

In 2019, the top causes of death included heart disease (62,649 deaths) and malignant neoplasms (59,828), followed by “other” (45,270 deaths). In 2020, the number of deaths due to heart disease increased slightly to 66,300, while cancer-related deaths increased to 60,019. However, there were 26,000 more deaths attributed to “other” in 2020 than in 2019.

These numbers are in line with what most of the country experienced in 2020. According to one study, the United States experienced 22.9% more deaths than expected in 2020. 72.4% of those excess deaths were attributed to COVID-19.

We’re Here for Injury Victims

2020 was incredibly difficult for many Californians. As we come out of the pandemic and return to normal life, we know that more people are at risk of accidental injuries. If you are hurt in any type of accident, our law firm is here to help.

The Kuvara Law firm is dedicated to helping people who have been hurt in all types of accidents, from medical malpractice to car crashes to slip and falls.  We aggressively advocate for each of our clients,working to get them the maximum compensation under the law. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with a California personal injury attorney, call us today at 415-479-7070 or fill out our online contact form.

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