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New mortality report for Pennsylvania highlights the deadly toll of COVID-19

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Anzhe Zhang

According to a newly released National Center for Health Statistics quarterly report on mortality rates across states, Pennsylvania saw a rise in death rates in the third quarter of 2021, as well as a higher average death rate overall, compared to the same time frame in 2020.

It highlights a growing concern for the state and its capacity in preventing COVID-19 deaths, which has become the third leading cause of death in the state behind heart disease and cancer.

Encompassing the entire duration of the pandemic up until the last three months of last year, the data set provides valuable insight as to the toll that COVID-19 is still taking on Pennsylvanians, while highlighting other persisting health problems contributing to an increased death rate for the state compared to 2020.

Compared to the third quarter of 2020 at the height of COVID-19, Pennsylvania saw its overall death rate jump from 1070.6 to 1089.2 deaths per 100,000 people in Q3 2021, according to the CDC.

Pennsylvania’s 12-month average death rate, from the end of third quarter 2020 to end of third quarter 2021, also jumped from 1132.0 to 1220.1 per 100,000 residents. 

While heart disease and cancer remain the two most deadly contributors to mortality rates within the state, death rates from these two causes have not seen any significant change. For heart disease, state residents saw a minor drop between the third quarters of the past two years, falling from 238.2 in 2020 to 234.6 in 2021. Similarly, the 12-month average death rate for heart disease saw essentially no change, with a rise from a 251.9 rate to 252.9 in 2021.

Likewise, the quarterly death rate for cancer in Pennsylvania saw no real change, with less than a 0.3 differential. In spite of this, however, the average 12-month death rate for cancer actually dropped from 220.5 in 2020 to 215.2 in 2021. 

It’s important to note that despite death rates remaining static for heart disease and cancer, the two diseases still kill exponentially more people than COVID-19, which trails behind both despite seeing the sharpest rise in death rates.

COVID-19 deaths saw a third quarter jump from 37.5 in 2020 to 59.9 in 2021. Meanwhile, the average 12-month death rate also experienced a significant rise from 61.0 in 2020 to 153.1 in 2021.

This comes at a time when COVID-19 is resurging across multiple states, including Pennsylvania, following holiday celebrations, lifted mask mandates, and the contagious new BA.2 strain.