Los Angeles

Report: LA County deaths went up 26% in 2020, with COVID as the second-leading cause of death

Deaths in Los Angeles County went up 26% in 2020, with COVID-19 as the second-leading cause of death that year, according to a new report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The report (PDF) released Tuesday found 81,083 deaths reported in Los Angeles County in 2020, 16,566 more than was reported in 2019, representing a 26% increase. Coronary heart disease was the leading cause of death, jumping 10% to 12,207 deaths from 11,075 in 2019. The second-leading cause of death that year was COVID, with 11,101 deaths – a 67% increase from 2019 to 2020.

SARS-CoV-2 was first identified in a November 2019 outbreak in China, reaching the U.S. in January of 2020. Los Angeles County’s first confirmed death from COVID was on March 19, 2020.

Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and diabetes rounded out five leading causes of death, respectively for that year. The report noted that deaths from each of these causes rose in 2020 relative to 2019 – Alzheimer’s disease deaths went up 12%, there was a 6% increase in stroke deaths, and a rather large jump in diabetes deaths at 18%.

The largest increase in deaths were from unintentional drug overdoses, which went up 62% to 1,954 in 2020, from 1,208 in 2019.

“The large increase in deaths over the space of only one year is unprecedented in modern times, and to a large degree reflects the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, LA County’s Director of Public Health, said in a statement.

Ferrer pointed out that 2020 also laid bare the stark disparities seen across racial and ethnic groups – that year saw 1,324 deaths among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, followed by 1,138 deaths in the indigenous community, which saw its death rate go up 63%, the largest increase among ethnic groups from 2019 to 2020. Geographically, areas with a large working-class community who were unable to work from home saw the highest death rates – 953 and 945 deaths per 100,000 people in the South and Antelope Valley Service Planning Areas (SPAs), compared to the West SPA, where deaths went up 7%, the smallest increase in the county.

“The disparities we see are longstanding but have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and are rooted in the inequitable social, economic, and environmental conditions, structural racism, and differential access to health-promoting resources experienced by different groups,” Ferrer said.

The report was based on provisional data reported on death certificates, which do not include Los Angeles County residents who died out of state. The number of missing deaths is believed to be fewer than 600 and not expected to affect the interpretations of the report.

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