More Americans died in 2020 than in any other year ever

As 2020 came to an end, many of us were celebrating what we hoped would be the better year ahead. These were the days before a last-ditch effort to overthrow the U.S. government and install a permanent Trump dictatorship, remember, and COVID vaccines in the world and a new president inbound, the last thing we wanted to do was confront the daunting morbidity of 2020.

In mid-December, we got our first glimpses of it, though. Preliminary data suggested that deaths in the U.S. had spiked 12% in 2020 over the previous year. When the dust settled, it was even worse. 2.8 million Americans died in the U.S. between March 1, 2020 and January 2, 2021, 23% higher than 2019. In terms of absolute numbers, it was the deadliest year in American history.

There are a lot of factors at play. A study released March 4 notes that COVID-19 mortality correlates with a country’s obesity rates, but countries where the majority of the population are overweight – like the United States and United Kingdom – may have other factors, like lack of a consistent government response, which is a critically important tool in addressing the pandemic. And the findings, released by the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest that the U.S. experienced a rise in mortality unrelated to COVID and possibly instead related to other factors worth keeping an eye on: dementia, diabetes, and heart disease deaths rose in 2020 over 2019, too.