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Research shows deaths spiked early in pandemic, but COVID-19 wasn’t only cause

Last updated on July 31, 2021

New research shows deaths in the U.S. spiked in the first months of the pandemic, but not all due to COVID-19.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at data from March through November of 2020 and compared the numbers to the previous five years. They discovered about 176,000 “excess deaths” that were not related to COVID-19.

“This really raises some important questions about how we’ve responded to the pandemic,” said Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, a professor of computer science at UIUC and of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. “Which demographics, which groups, which ages and genders have been most affected? And how are we going to use this information to ultimately make society safer for the greatest number of people?”

The excess deaths were most prominent among men 15-to-64, an age group that saw 42,000 excess deaths from non-COVID causes. But there also were big shifts just among the lower end of the demographic.

“If you look at the 15-to-24-year age group, in particular men, what we saw is that a little under 2% of the deaths were attributable to COVID-19,” Jacobson said. “Yet when you compare their death rate to the previous five-year average, that was 18% higher. We started to realize that although the absolute number of deaths were small, the relative number of deaths were statistically significant.”

Data that would help researchers determine the exact causes of these excess deaths have not yet been released.

“What that suggests is that these young people were dying for reasons not related to COVID,” Jacobson said. “There could have been opioid overdoses. It could have been more accidents. It could have been mental health issues. We don’t know the cause yet. But we will find out.”

It appears the pandemic actually saved lives among infants and children younger than 4 years old.

“We looked at the most likely causes of their deaths in general, whether it’s automobile accidents or pool accidents,” Jacobson said. “Because parents were at home and they were maybe more attentive, it appears that these deaths were avoided.”

Jacobson and co-author Dr. Janet Jokela, acting regional dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana, said the work is needed to understand factors that led to the excess deaths and to consider interventions that could prevent them in the future.

“The question is what can we learn that can benefit us moving forward?” Jacobson said.

“This is really the most important thing. We’re trying to make society safer and more effective for all. What can we glean from this information to help us be a better society, to save lives, and improve quality of life?

This article was originally posted on Research shows deaths spiked early in pandemic, but COVID-19 wasn’t only cause

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