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Number of deaths in state rose 20% in 2020

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

There were 20% more deaths in New Mexico in 2020 than in the previous year – a figure that was inflated by COVID-19.

And more people died of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus than from accidents – which had previously been the third-most common cause of death in the state, according to data provided by the New Mexico Department of Health.

In both the country and the state, COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer.

The state’s age-adjusted death rate rose more than the country’s did. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report saying that nationwide the age-adjusted death rate rose 15.9% in 2020.

The DOH did not make anyone available for an interview on the data, and a spokeswoman did not answer questions about what led to the state having a greater increase in age-adjusted deaths or what other causes of death besides COVID-19 contributed to the increase.

Researchers found that in 2020, COVID-19 was reported as the underlying or contributing cause of death in about 11.3% of deaths nationally and 11.7% of all New Mexico deaths.

In New Mexico, 23,514 deaths were reported in 2020, compared with 19,537 in 2019 – an increase of 3,977, according to data provided by the DOH. Of those deaths, COVID-19 was determined to be a cause or contributing factor in 2,930. As of Friday, a reported 3,949 people had died of COVID-19 in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.

The increase in deaths challenges arguments by some that the threat from the virus has been exaggerated.

Hannah Long, a spokeswoman for the DOH, said in a statement that this argument is wrong and is “dismissive of the legitimate threat COVID-19 has posed from the onset as well as the severe illness and deaths that this virus has caused.”

“Would people have died anyway because of their age or preexisting health conditions? Yes, because we all die eventually. Sixty percent of Americans have at least one chronic health condition; forty percent have two,” Long wrote in a statement. “COVID-19, however, has been the driving force to prematurely ending lives, and the number of lives lost in New Mexico would almost certainly have been higher without the efforts the state and every resident took to mitigate the viral spread.”

Although deaths among New Mexicans rose 20% overall, some age groups suffered significantly larger increases than the statewide average. Data provided by the DOH shows that the age group with the biggest increase – 27% – was 35- to 44-year-olds. That category is followed closely by 25- to 34-year-olds – which had a 26% increase in deaths – and 65- to 74-year-olds – which had a 25% increase.

The DOH did not answer questions about why some of the younger age groups had bigger increases than the others.

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