COVID-19 Was the Leading Cause of Death in 20 U.S. States Last Month

A grim new milestone shows the continued impact of coronavirus in the United States as 20 states saw COVID-19 become the leading cause of death amid a third wave of cases.

The third wave has seen cases of the novel virus soar to record rates amid the pandemic, with an influx of hospitalizations and rising death tolls quickly following. In the first week of December, the U.S. reported three days of record deaths but data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) illustrated a fatal trend across nearly half of the U.S.

In the first three weeks of November, CDC data showed COVID-19 as the leading cause of death in 20 states as well as Puerto Rico.

Those states—Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin—are also seeing some of the most severe and persistent outbreak resurgences in the U.S. right now. Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Utah were among several states, alongside Alaska and Rhode Island, that recorded the highest increases in COVID-19 cases per capita last week compared with the rest of the country.

The CDC, which releases weekly, state-specific statistics that record deaths and their respective causes, places those attributed to COVID-19 into two categories. The first categorizes COVID-19 as one of multiple causes that preceded an individual's passing, while the second lists it as a death's primary underlying cause. Heart disease and cancer are the most common causes of death in the U.S., and data shows the same is true when deaths are evaluated on a state-by-state basis.

In addition to states where COVID-19 was the principal cause of death last month, fatalities recorded elsewhere confirm the virus' grave and significant consequences. The CDC's data shows it was the leading cause of death in Kentucky, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Wyoming for two of the first three weeks of November.

COVID-19, Wisconsin
COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in 20 U.S. states last month, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People park outside of the Nielsen Tennis Stadium, where 15-minute rapid COVID-19 tests are administered, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's campus on November 24, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. Andy Manis/Getty

Previous data shows COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in dozens of states before November, including many where the pattern held last month. In Iowa, Kansas, Montana and Nebraska, the CDC found virus infections led to more deaths than other causes every week since the beginning of October. In North Dakota, COVID-19 became the leading cause of death in late September. It became the leading cause of death one week earlier in South Dakota, and two weeks earlier in Missouri.

COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in almost every U.S. state at some time this year. Just 12 states did not see virus-related fatalities rise above those caused by other diseases.

Although data showed the number of deaths linked to COVID-19 in Texas fell slightly below those caused by cancer during the third week of November, it was the state's leading cause of death for more than four months prior to that. It was Pennsylvania's leading cause of death throughout most of April and May, and Nevada's throughout July, August and part of September.

The CDC did not include a full breakdown of deaths recorded in Rhode Island, and their respective causes, for the week leading up to November 21. Additional data showed that Rhode Island's COVID-19 fatalities surpassed those related to all other causes in April, May and June. The respiratory illness again became the state's leading cause of death in mid-October.

Nationally, the CDC's data shows COVID-19 became the leading cause of death in the U.S. during the final week of October, and remained so through three-fourths of the next month, when the health agency's statistics were last updated. Additional figures published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation indicated that COVID-19 continued to surpass all other illnesses as the country's leading cause of death during the first week of December.

More than 15.3 million people have contracted COVID-19 in the U.S. over the past nine months. About 6 million, or roughly 40 percent, tested positive after Halloween. More than 50,000 people have died from virus infections since then, bringing the nation's overall fatality toll to at least 288,185 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.