The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) this week released a new report pegging COVID-19 as the third leading cause of death in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer, a ranking that health officials expect to recur in 2021.
The report reviewed the data of COVID-19 deaths spanning Jan. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021, as well as from death certificates reported to DPHHS as of mid-October. During that time period, there were 2,100 COVID-19 deaths identified among Montana residents.
Provisional death certificate data show there were 1,258 COVID-19 deaths in 2020 and 842 COVID-19 deaths in the first nine months of 2021 (January–September). To date, the highest number of COVID-19 deaths among Montana residents occurred between October and December 2020.
In a caveat to the Nov. 1 report, state health officials stated the death record information for 2021 is considered provisional information and will be finalized later in 2022. Also, it’s possible the 2021 leading causes of death rankings could change as death certificate data are finalized.
However, provisional data show that September 2021 approached previous monthly highs. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Montana continues to remain high, with 258 deaths last month.
“As more data becomes available, DPHHS continues to produce reports such as this to demonstrate the impact of COVID-19 in Montana,” DPHHS Director Adam Meier said. “While Montanans may not be surprised by the report’s findings, it serves as a reminder about the importance of getting the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.”
The report emphasizes that some groups of people in Montana have been affected by the pandemic more than others. The COVID-19 mortality rate among American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) residents in Montana was four times greater than white Montana residents. And, AI/AN residents died of COVID-19 at younger ages than white residents; the median age at death was 68 years for AI/AN residents and 80 years among white residents.
More than two-thirds of COVID-19 decedents (69%) had at least one underlying condition reported. The most reported underlying conditions were cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and respiratory diseases. These data indicate that COVID-19 remains a leading cause of death in Montana.
“I can’t stress enough that these COVID-19 related deaths are almost entirely preventable,” said DPHHS acting State Medical Officer Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek, who added that the COVID-19 vaccine is widely available to Montanans aged 12 years and older. “Vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19 infection and at preventing severe COVID-19 outcomes, such as hospitalization and death. We continue to urge eligible Montanans who have not gotten vaccinated to get vaccinated, and for those who are eligible, to get the booster shot to ensure they have adequate protection against the virus.”