For most of the last decade, the leading causes of death in the U.S. have remained the same, and the steady increase in mortality over the years has been largely due to an aging population. But the 2020 death statistics will be different. With over 300,000 deaths projected by end of Dec 2020, COVID-19 will become the third most common cause of death in the U.S.
Figure 1 below shows the leading causes of death from 2010 to 2018, representing the population ages 1 and over. In 2018, for instance, a total of 2.8 million deaths were registered in the U.S. and the top-10 leading causes of death accounted for nearly three-quarters of all deaths. Heart disease and cancer (malignant neoplasms) remained on top of the list and surpassed the other causes by a large margin, accounting for more than 655,000 and 599,000 deaths respectively; accidents (unintentional injuries) were the next most common cause, resulting in about 166,000 deaths. Incidentally, influenza and pneumonia (combined into one category) has also consistently been in the list of top-10 causes of death.
However, 2020 will be a different story. With the current death toll at 239,000, COVID-19 has now become one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. The prolonged presence of the disease may be causing pandemic fatigue among Americans, but still more deaths are expected to be recorded in the near future. The COVID-19 fatality projections produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) for the U.S. demonstrate different scenarios, including easing of restrictions or mandatory mask usage. They predict the baseline at about 326,000 cumulative deaths by year end and nearly 400,000 lives may be lost by Feb 1, 2021.
Figure 1: Leading Causes of Death in the US, 2010-2018