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State vital statistics show irregularly high rate of deaths in 2020

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As of Thursday morning, 1,341 people have died after contracting the coronavirus in North Dakota.

But, that number could actually be more staggering due to a statistic you may never have heard of. Excess deaths are being calculated all the time by the CDC and the North Dakota Department of Health in cases of pneumonia, the flu and now COVID-19.

The CDC says excess deaths are the number of fatalities above what’s expected at the beginning of the year.

For example, North Dakota saw a higher number of deaths overall in 2020 compared to several previous years. COVID-19 appears to be the key contributor according to Grace Njau, the Director of Health Analytics & Special Projects at the state Deptartment of Health.

“What we do see overall is a trend of excess deaths, much more than would be expected, on any given year in North Dakota,” Njau added.

In North Dakota, the CDC says anywhere from 767 to 1,206 excess deaths occurred since the pandemic began directly because of COVID 19.

Jenn Kary, from Mandan, has been using a blog on her Facebook page to break down the severity of the state’s outbreak in terms that make sense to everyone. She recently discovered a rise in pneumonia deaths in the peace garden state could be linked to undetected COVID-19 deaths.

“I kind of started learning about how the CDC determines the excess COVID mortality,” Kary shared.

She found out the uptick in pneumonia could give us a glimpse of how many deaths may be related to the coronavirus but were never diagnosed.

“Unfortunately, some people get sick quickly, and then a test is never conducted,” Kary added.

Over the course of the last year, there were 1,070 pneumonia deaths in North Dakota. 578 of those patients also had COVID-19. The difference between the two is another 492 deaths that the CDC says could have been misclassified, which would significantly raise the state’s coronavirus death toll.

“A lot of COVID deaths are pneumonia deaths because COVID does cause pneumonia,” Njau explained.

At the end of the day, she says the most important statistic is the total number of unexpected deaths for the year (782 – 1,498), and the data shows, COVID-19 is almost entirely to blame.

An important note from the Director of Health Analytics: all of these calculations are still provisional, changing weekly, or even daily. What is concrete is that the death count was irregularly high in North Dakota for 2020.

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