The Montana Department of Health and Human Services revealed on Tuesday that COVID-19 was the 3rd leading cause of death in 2020 with 1,104 deaths.

The first COVID-19 death in Montana occurred March 26, 2020.

State Epidemiologist Laura Williamson told KGVO News that 2020 was a very difficult year for healthcare in Montana.

“2020 was a very hard year for all Montanans,” said Williamson. “This report found that the mortality rate or death rate in Montana was 14 percent higher in 2020 than it was for the previous five years, or the average of the previous five years, so that equates to 1,900 excess deaths.”

Williamson tied COVID 19 to those numbers.

“COVID-19 contributed to a large proportion of that statistic with nearly 1,100 deaths,” she said. “However, there were still 800 excess deaths that we saw in a variety of disease categories. Here at DPHHS we cannot fully explain the cause or causes of all those 800 deaths, but that was certainly a significant finding for us.”

Williamson described how COVID might be listed as a cause of death.

“They would have had a positive PCR test that diagnosed them with COVID, and then later died of those conditions of COVID,” she said. “They might have developed pneumonia and then ultimately died of acute respiratory distress, and so the physician or coroner would put on their death certificate COVID-19 as the underlying cause.”

Administrator for the Public Health and Safety Division with DPHHS Todd Harwell, first reminded Montanans to continue with all their protective practices, but then provided a sobering statistic, a first for Montana.

“We really need to make sure that we are continuing to do the things we can do to prevent the spread of COVID,” said Harwell. “Everybody knows what those are, and in addition everybody who's eligible should get vaccinated as soon as they can. I think another point that we found from digging through the history records with this report was that 2020 will be the first year on record since the state started to collect birth and death records, where the number of deaths exceeded the number of live births in Montana.”

Heart disease and cancer were the first and second leading causes of death in 2020 and 2015–2019, accounting for approximately 40% of all deaths.

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