The body of a deceased patient is considered a health care worker treating individuals infected with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on December 30, 2020 at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, United States.

Callaghan O’Hare | Reuters

Coronavirus was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, after heart disease and cancer, according to a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 3.3 million deaths were reported in the US last year, up 16% from 2019. This is according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the National Vital Statistics System and annual death certificate-based mortality statistics investigate and report.

The deadliest weeks of last year were at the start of the pandemic and then in the middle of the holiday flood, in the weeks leading up to April 11 with 78,917 deaths and December 26 when 80,656 people died, the CDC found.

According to the study published on Wednesday, Covid-19 was listed as the root cause of 345,323 deaths. More Americans died in the process than accidental injuries, strokes, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease.

The agency’s first results were released months ahead of schedule as “freshness has improved and there is an urgent need for updated quality data during the global COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers wrote.

Only heart disease and cancer killed more people than Covid-19 in the US in 2020 – heart disease killed 690,882 people and cancer killed 598,932.

Covid-19 replaced suicide in the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, the study found. Overall, the annual death rate rose nearly 16% year over year in 2020, the first time since 2017, according to the CDC.

The highest annual death rates were reported among men, people age 85 and over, and people who are not Hispanic Black and Native American and Alaskan native, according to the CDC.

However, if you just look at Covid-19, Hispanic and Native American and Alaskan Native Americans, as well as those aged 85 and over, were more likely to die of the disease compared to any other group. Men died more often from Covid-19 than women.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said after the study was published the results should “act as a catalyst” for Americans to reduce the spread of the virus and get vaccinated when it is their turn to get vaccinated.

“I know this is not easy and so many of us are frustrated with the disruption this pandemic has had in our daily lives, but we can do this as a nation that works together,” Walensky said during a White House press conference Covid-19 on Wednesday.

Typically, it takes researchers 11 months after the end of the calendar year to “investigate specific causes of death and process and review data”. The daily Covid deaths reported by the CDC, while current, may underestimate the actual number of deaths due to “incomplete or late reports”.

“Preliminary death estimates provide an early indication of shifts in mortality trends and can guide public health policies and actions aimed at reducing the number of deaths directly or indirectly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic “write the researchers.

Some have tried to sow doubts about the real number of Covid-19 deaths, claiming they may have been overstated. However, in a separate CDC study released Wednesday, the agency found that the death certificates accurately reflected the number of reported coronavirus deaths.

The agency checked death certificates listing Covid-19 and at least one other concurrent illness. The CDC found that Covid-19 was reported in 97% of deaths alongside another condition that the virus might have caused, such as pneumonia or respiratory failure, or that contributed significantly to its severity, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

A small fraction of them – 2.5% of the certificates – documented conditions not currently associated with Covid-19, the CDC noted.

“These results support the accuracy of COVID-19 mortality monitoring in the US using official death certificates,” the researchers said.