COVID-19 Becomes Leading Cause of Death in U.S. in January, Study Shows

COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death in the U.S. in just the first month of 2021, according to a new study.

The study, which was published by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), found that as of January 26, over 3,000 Americans per day died of COVID-19 during the month.

The report said COVID-19 accounted for 3,049 daily deaths this month, followed by heart disease, at 2,068, and cancer, with at least 1,639 deaths per day.

"That number is staggering compared to other leading causes of death and is nearly 50% higher than the next leading cause," the report said. "Heart disease, which is typically the number one cause of death in the U.S. each year, leads to the death of about 2,000 Americans per day, and cancer claims about 1,600 American lives per day."

Coronavirus in U.S.
Medical workers at the Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the coronavirus at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco on March 12, 2020. Josh Edelson/Getty

The study used data that combined COVID-19 mortality rate data from KFF's tracker with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "on weekly counts of death by jurisdiction and cause of death."

The study also said that the data from the CDC does not include deaths caused by accidents, "which, before the pandemic, were typically the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer," as well as suicides, "which were typically the tenth leading cause of death before the pandemic."

"To avoid double-counting, the dataset excludes deaths confirmed to have an underlying cause of COVID-19," the study said. "The chart could, however, understate the severity of COVID-19 because some of those deaths may have been misclassified as other causes."

This past October, the Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF published a similar report, shortly after the U.S. surpassed 200,000 deaths related to the virus. That report said COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the nation.

The new study comes as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise in the U.S., and new variants of the virus have been identified across the country. According to an NBC News tracker, at least 28 states have reported cases of the variants.

While the CDC has reported that these new variants spread more rapidly, some health care professionals have said that the COVID-19 vaccines should be effective against them.

While speaking at a press conference in December, Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, the company that helped develop a vaccine with Pfizer, said, "We don't know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant. But scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, made similar comments last week. "It appears that the vaccines will still be effective against" these new variants he said.

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for comment but did not hear back before publication.