Fueled by COVID-19, U.S. deaths will top 3 million in the deadliest year on record

December 22, 2020, 5:31 PM UTC

The year about to end will be a record one on a sad front for Americans: The number of U.S. deaths in 2020 will hit an all-time high, topping 3 million for the first time, with much of the toll coming from the pandemic.

Some 3.2 million Americans will have died by the end of the year of all causes, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. government data. That is about 13% more than last year’s tally of 2.85 million deaths, with the increase almost entirely the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak is wreaking havoc around the world, but is proportionately deadlier in the U.S. than in many other countries.

The number of deaths in the nation typically rises by a few tens of thousands every year, because of the aging of the population. But this year’s percentage increase, according to the AP, will be the biggest since another major pandemic ripped through the country: the 1918 influenza outbreak that coincided with the final year of World War I.

In the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins data tracker, the death toll attributable to the pandemic has now reached almost 320,000, a tally sure to keep rising given that the number of new daily cases has topped 200,000 this month, even as mortality rates are lower than at the start of the outbreak in late winter. There have been days in December that have seen 3,000 deaths or more.

The year 2021 is likely to bring relief, thanks to planned mass vaccinations. So far 615,000 Americans have been inoculated, including President-elect Biden and, on Tuesday, the country’s top epidemiologist, Anthony Fauci.

Before the pandemic, the U.S. had seen the age-adjusted death rate fall, and last year, life expectancy rose by about six weeks, to 78.8 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to the loss of life and the spread of an often devastating illness, COVID-19 continues to take a deep toll on the U.S. economy. On Monday, Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-relief bill to help tens of millions of Americans out of work and businesses shuttered during the pandemic.

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