Evaluation of County-Level Heterogeneity in Excess Mortality in Colorado from March to September 2020
42 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 9, 2021
Importance: Tracking the direct and indirect impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on all-cause mortality in the United States has been hindered by the lack of testing and by reporting delays. Evaluating excess mortality, or the number of deaths above what is expected in a given time period, provides critical insights into the true burden of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Stratifying mortality data by demographics such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, and geography helps quantify how subgroups of the population have been differentially affected. Similarly, stratifying mortality data by cause of death reveals the public health effects of the pandemic in terms of other acute and chronic diseases.
Objective: To provide stratified estimates of excess mortality in Colorado from March to September 2020.
Design, Setting, and Population: This study evaluated the number of excess deaths both directly due to SARS-CoV-2 infection and from all other causes between March and September 2020 at the county level in Colorado. Data were obtained from the Vital Statistics Program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. These estimates of excess mortality were derived by comparing population- adjusted mortality rates in 2020 with rates in the same months from 2015 to 2019.
Results: We found evidence of excess mortality in Colorado between March and September 2020. Two peaks in excess deaths from all causes were recorded in the state, one mid-April and the other at the end of June. Since the first documented SARS-CoV-2 infection on March 5th, we estimated that the excess mortality rate in Colorado was two times higher than the officially reported COVID-19 mortality rate. State-level cumulative excess mortality from all causes reached 71 excess deaths per 100k residents (~4000 excess deaths in the state); in contrast, 35 deaths per 100k directly due to SARS-CoV-2 were recorded in the same period (~1980 deaths. Excess mortality occurred in 52 of 64 counties, accounting for 99% of the state’s population. Most excess deaths recorded from March to September 2020 were associated with acute events (estimated at 44 excess deaths per 100k residents and at 9 after excluding deaths directly due to SARS-CoV-2) rather than with chronic conditions (~21 excess deaths per 100k). Among Coloradans aged 14-44, 1.4 times more deaths occurred in those months than during the same period in the five previous years. Hispanic White males died of COVID-19 at the highest rate during this time (~90 deaths from COVID-19 per 100k residents); however, Non-Hispanic Black/African American males were the most affected in terms of overall excess mortality (~204 excess deaths per 100k). Beyond inequalities in COVID-19 mortality per se, these findings signal considerable regional and racial-ethnic disparities in excess all-cause mortality that need to be addressed for a just recovery and in future public health crises.
Note: Funding Statement: Dr. Leo A. Celi was funded by the NIH through NIBIB grant R01 EB017205. Dr. Maimuna S. Majumder was supported in part by grant T32HD040128 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH).
Declaration of Interests: The authors have no competing interest to declare.
Ethics Approval Statement: We received approval from MIT COUHES to conduct this research. We are also bounded by our Data Use Agreement with the Vital Statistics Program led by Kirk Bol at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Keywords: Excess Mortality, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, Colorado, Health Policy, Health Equity
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