Nebraska deaths from COVID-19 may rank low compared to other causes

Dr. Gary Anthone (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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April 8, 2020 - 5:40pm

While attention has centered on COVID-19 and the deaths it may cause, those deaths in Nebraska so far are relatively few compared to deaths from other causes.

About 17,000 people have died in Nebraska each year in recent years – 16,908 in 2018, the latest year for which figures are available from the state Department of Health and Human Services. As of Wednesday, the number of deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, stood at 13. Of course, that number has been increasing, and computer models say it will continue to grow. One model, by the Institute for Health Measures and Evaluation at the University of Washington, projects 289 deaths from COVID-19 in Nebraska in the next four months.

If the projection holds true, and there’s not a second wave of deaths after that, that would make COVID-19 only the eighth highest cause of death compared to those listed in that Health and Human Services report. Leading that list was heart disease, with almost 3,600 deaths, and cancer, with just over 3,500, followed by chronic lung disease, accidents, Alzheimers, cerebrovascular diseases like strokes and aneurisms, and diabetes, which was listed as causing 597 deaths.

Asked how Nebraskans should think about the dangers of COVID-19, Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, credited measures the state is taking for keeping the number of deaths down.

"The local public health departments, Governor's leadership, everybody's leadership at DHHS, I hope has kept it that way. And that's why we're in that situation to begin with," Anthone said.

But Anthone said just because COVID-19 ranks below other causes of death, that’s no reason for complacency.

"We have to take it seriously. It's a serious disease. Once it strikes, especially in elderly or patients with comorbidities, it's sort of like the tipping point for them to actually cause a death or a fatality. And we don't want that to happen," he said. Comorbidity refers to having more than one health condition.

One thing that distinguishes COVID-19 from those other causes of death that rank higher is that it’s contagious. If the projection of 289 deaths holds, that would make COVID-19 the second highest contagious disease in the department’s list – second only to pneumonia, which killed 308 people in Nebraska in 2018.







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