U.S. deaths will hit a record 3.2 million in 2020, due largely to COVID-19

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The U.S. will exceed 3 million annual deaths for the first time in 2020, The Associated Press reports, citing preliminary federal figures. And "as with so many other grim milestones this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is largely to blame," AP writes. Almost 320,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 this year, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally, meaning about 1 out of every 1,000 people in the U.S. will have died from the coronavirus by Christmas.

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The projected 3.2 million deaths would be a 15 percent jump from the 2.84 million recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2019. That's the largest one-year percentage jump since 1918, when the U.S. lost tens of thousands of people in World War I and hundreds of thousands more to the flu pandemic. An analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week found that COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the U.S., topping heart disease and cancer.

Deaths usually rise each year because the U.S. population is growing and aging. But the typical increase is between 20,000 to 50,000 deaths, not the 400,000 expected in 2020, AP explains. In 2019, nearly 16,000 more people died in the U.S., the overall mortality rate dropped, and life expectancy rose by several weeks. Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, told AP that life expectancy could drop by as much as three years in 2020.

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Drug overdoses also rose sharply in 2020, suicides appear to have ended their multi-year decline, and an expected drop in car crash fatalities doesn't seem to have materialized, AP reports. Final numbers are expected in a few months.

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