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United States passes 3 million deaths in 2020. . . first time ever

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The Associated Press recently reported in this article that the United States will, for the first time ever, pass the 3 million mark in actual deaths recorded in a single calendar year.  And, in what is not a surprise to anybody in the country in this COVID-19 year, the number of deaths will be an approximately 15% increase in the number of deaths from 2019.

While those numbers don’t surprise anybody there is a lot to learn from this article and we will point out the highlights.  For instance, the 15% increase in annual deaths in one year is the largest increase since 1918 when thousands of American soldiers died in World War I and the country was caught in another pandemic — that of the Spanish flu.  In 1918, the number of American deaths rose 46% higher than the previous year.

For 2019, the Center for Disease Control numbered the total number of deaths at 2,854,838 which was about 16,000 more than the year before — generally considered the increase due to the aging of the American population.

That 16,000 number increase was done in spite of a slight drop in the United States mortality rate. . . . which the article points out was because of better care of heart disease and cancer.  And, in 2019, life expectancy inched up for the 2nd straight year to 78.8 years on average.

The article points out, however, that the increase of deaths caused by COVID-19, may drop the life expectancy average in America as much as three full years.

Here are some other interesting statistics that the article points out:

  • COVID-19 has claimed 318,000 American lives to date and counting.  However, it is still only the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States this year behind heart disease and cancer.
  • Early on in the pandemic it was estimated that stay at home orders would lower the number of auto accident related deaths.  However, anecdotal numbers to date suggest that there was no such decline.
  • Suicide deaths dropped in 2019 but early information suggests they did not continue to drop in 2020.
  • Drug overdose deaths have gotten much worse.  It is expected that there will be more drug overdose deaths than the 81,000 the the CDC reported in their last yearly report.

Funeral Director Daily take:  Reading this article was very sobering to me.  I’ve seen, even in my own community, the number of COVID-19 deaths and then came to realize that those deaths rank only 3rd on the scale of annual deaths behind heart disease and cancer.  That really makes one understand the the scope of those health issues and how, if we could somehow extend and enhance the lives of many of those people, that it would really make a difference to a a great number of people — not only those who eventually die of those causes, but those that love them also.

I’m an optimist, and much like the Spanish Flu in 1918 and Polio in the 1940’s and 1950’s, I expect the world to get a handle on COVID here soon.  However, I expect heart disease and cancer to be with us much longer.

And, the number of drug induced deaths is heartbreaking to me.  Think of the number of COVID deaths this year and then realize that we lose almost 1/4 as many Americans each year to illicit drugs.  That saddens me when I think of the lives that seemingly don’t ever get a chance to take full flight because of the addictions some people are burdened with.  I’ve known some of these people. . . I’ve had relatives in that situation. . . and it is absolutely heartbreaking to me.

From the Funeral Professionals point of view:  To look at this increase in deaths is a dichotomy to most funeral professionals.  We make our living by serving those who have had family members pass away.  We need death and the revenue that it generates to pay our staffs, pay our other overhead, and build out our businesses so we can make our care of these people worthwhile.  So, we need deaths.

However, I don’t think that there is one funeral director that would wish death on anybody.  And, especially to the extent we have had it this year.  Not only are we working more hours, but we are working in conditions that require more care and in conditions that are not always conducive to us caring for client family members in the best way possible.

Funeral directors, however, are there when duty calls.  Here’s to hoping that we can lower the number of United States deaths in 2021 and get back to being able to give the best possible care to those we do serve.

In the meantime. . . to those of you whom I have witnessed on the front lines of death care this past year. . . Hats off to you.  You have moved our profession forward in a caring and compassionate way.  You are to be commended for your efforts that have been done in a very difficult environment.  You have continued to move the needle forward on the profession that is “The Funeral Director”.  Thank you!

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  1. Very interesting and revealing. Puts things in perspective. Very unfortunate that drug-related deaths are on the rise as Colette notes. but other causes of death can not be ignored in the quest to get our arms around Covid.

  2. Interesting article and unfortunate that drug related deaths are on the rise.

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