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Coronavirus

Fueled by coronavirus, Colorado saw an extraordinary increase in deaths in 2020

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the state in 2020, according to preliminary numbers

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Deaths in Colorado from all causes saw an astonishing increase in 2020, growing by at least 18%, compared to the low single-digit percentage increases of prior years.

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The numbers are still preliminary and will likely increase because it takes time for death certificates to be finalized and recorded by federal and state health officials. But even early figures show the extraordinary impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on mortality in Colorado.

As of Monday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had recorded 46,510 deaths in Colorado for 2020, an 18.3% increase over the previous year. In 2019, the state saw 39,313 deaths, up 2.2% from 2018, according to CDPHE figures. Between 2010 and 2019, Colorado averaged a 2.5% increase in deaths per year. The state’s population grew by about 1.5% per year during that time period, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The biggest chunk of the increase in 2020 came from deaths due to COVID-19. It was the third-leading cause of death in the state last year, behind only cancer and heart disease.

CDPHE’s preliminary numbers on Monday placed Colorado’s official coronavirus deaths in 2020 at 3,520, though the figure is almost certain to increase substantially. (For comparison, there are so far 430 deaths reported due to influenza and pneumonia in 2020.)

While the state should have a near-final count of total deaths in 2020 by the end of the month, it takes significantly longer for vital records administrators to assign a specific cause to a death in official figures. Colorado likely won’t have finalized cause-specific death numbers until April.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Coronavirus deaths in 2020 are especially likely to see a big increase from these preliminary figures because November and December saw a large number of deaths from the virus. COVID-19 deaths peaked, with 77 deaths being reported on Dec. 9.

Colorado tracks COVID-19 deaths two ways. The first, which is used mostly for epidemiological surveillance, looks at the number of deaths among cases — in other words, people who died while infected with coronavirus. The second, which is used for vital records purposes and is slower to be reported, looks at the number of deaths where COVID-19 is listed on the decedent’s death certificate — in other words, people who died due to the coronavirus.

Through Dec. 31, Colorado reported 4,975 deaths among people who were infected with the coronavirus. Many of those deaths will eventually be confirmed as deaths due to COVID-19 and reported in the official mortality numbers.

Even with incomplete numbers, December already counts as likely the deadliest month in state history, with more than 4,800 deaths from all causes, surpassing the mark set in April during the state’s previous coronavirus surge. November, which saw more than 4,600 deaths, was also deadlier than April.

“I can’t speak to all of the causes or implications,” Kirk Bol, the manager of CDPHE’s vital statistics program, wrote in an email, “but this does reflect the seriousness of the November surge, and its direct and indirect impacts.”

While year-over-year comparisons are difficult with preliminary figures, there are other causes of death that appear to have seen notable increases in 2020. Deaths due to cerebrovascular diseases like strokes and aneurysms have already eclipsed their 2019 totals. So, too, have deaths due to cancer, diabetes, drug overdose, Alzheimer’s disease, homicide and nutritional deficiencies.

Deaths due to suicide are so far not showing an increase, though, again, the numbers are preliminary and will change.

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