Ohio's death rate in 2020 exceeds average over last 5 years

University Hospitals addresses dead in bed risk
Posted at 9:28 PM, Jan 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-16 23:10:34-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — New data from the Ohio Department of Health shows the overall number of deaths in the state in 2020 far exceeded previous years. That increase surpassed the number of confirmed coronavirus deaths last year.

According to ODH data through Friday, Jan. 15., 139,232 people died in Ohio in 2020. That number is up 17,385 from the average of 121,847 over the last five years.

“That tells you that more people died in 2020 than should have based on the average of what we know the mortality is in Ohio,” said Dr. Amy Edwards, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

While ODH is still adding deaths to the tally, so far it's reported that more than 9,500 of those deaths were COVID-related. But that still leaves more than 7,000 deaths above-average, so how do we account for those?

Edwards said determining that is a process.

“Excess mortality is extra mortality after you've accounted for everything else. And it's going to take a really long time to tease out what all the excess mortality in the pandemic is related to. A good chunk of it is actually going to be COVID,” Edwards said.

Several factors could have contributed to that excess mortality in 2020.

Edwards believes many people may have died of COVID-19 before testing was widely available.

“The other thing you have to remember is even our best tests are not turning out to be that great. There are people who are dying. We don't know what their cause is. And then the coroner finds evidence of COVID and our tests had came back negative. So there's a lot of that,” Edwards said.

She’s also worried about people skipping routine medical care against the advice of doctors.

“People who shouldn't have died but who did because they were afraid to seek medical care, because the outbreak was not under very good control for much of the year,” Edwards said.

Things aren’t looking much better in the first few weeks of 2021.

“If you look at the mortality for January thus far, it's vastly out tracking what we normally see in January up to this,” Edwards said.

Edwards said eventually the excess mortality will die out, but how quickly that happens depends on the government and our personal actions.

“If we can't get enough vaccinations in 2021, then you'll see throughout all of 2021 excess mortality,” Edwards said. “If people don't want 2021 to be as bad as 2020, they need to take it more seriously for the next several months until people get vaccinated. I think most of us are hoping that by summer that all the mortality rates will start to drop back down to the average."

“Who knows. I mean, again, that comes back to some of this excess mortality is delaying medical care, something that even from the beginning, the very first lockdown back in April, we've been begging people not to do,” Edwards said. “Not to delay medical care for anything but the most basic of stuff. But people are delaying medical care. And I think we're going to see the consequences of that for a while.”

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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