Weekly data show COVID-19 leads cause of death in the U.S. beating heart disease

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- This week COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the country, according to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

Doctors say it will be a rough few months ahead before a vaccine becomes available to the general public.

“Mass scale-up of vaccination in 2021 means we have a path back to normal life, but there are still a few rough months ahead,” said IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray in a release.

Projections show even with a likely vaccine rollout, IHME researchers predict the country will still see more than a half a million deaths by the beginning of April.

“I think that most people feel that yes, it will get worse before it gets better,” says Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director for Infection Prevention at UW-Health.

IHME says COVID-19 was the cause of nearly 12,000 deaths this week, putting it ahead of ischemic heart disease and lung cancer, but some doctors say they are not surprised. 

“It is eclipsing other conditions—of course the other conditions are still happening, it’s just because COVID is so widespread and so many cases are occurring that the number of deaths in the short run are going to be higher from it,” adds Dr. Safdar.

Milwaukee County health officials say while they’re seeing a moment of stability with case trends and hospitalizations, that’s not the case with deaths. The state also hit a new record with 107 deaths reported on Tuesday, Dec. 1, increasing the 7-day average by more than a dozen from what it was a month ago.

“We continue to see record days both locally and in the state for COVID-related deaths, in fact in just the last month we saw 30-percent of all the COVID deaths since the pandemic began,” said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

“We saw a pretty substantial increase in deaths, especially in the suburban communities, over the last couple months,” adds Darren Rausch, health officer and director at the Greenfield Health Department.

Doctors are still bracing on what’s to come, and say we’re still not out of the woods with the after effects of Thanksgiving gatherings.

“Because hospitalizations and deaths often lag behind cases, we’ll only know about them in the next few weeks,” said Dr. Safdar.

IHME forecasts show in addition to the vaccine coming out, if mask usage rose to 95-percent,  then 66,000 lives could be saved.

Dr. Safdar says masking is important because the vaccine will not have an immediate impact.

“I mean for one -- it takes a few days to build up immunity, and the other is that a large portion of the population has to get vaccinated, which we don’t think is going to happen immediately,” she said.

On top of mask-wearing, doctors say preventing the spread of COVID-19 is most effective when paired with distancing and washing your hands.




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