PHOENIX — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state health department reports that 20,963 Arizonans have lost their lives to the illness. When compared to other states, this ranks Arizona as eleventh and sixth per capita when using data from John Hopkins University.
A report released by the Arizona Public Health Association finds that this number is enough to mean COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in Arizona, and has likely been since the start of the pandemic in March of last year. A member with a background in health statistics put together the report using data compiled from the state COVID-19 dashboard and CDC Wonder database, a common tool for tracking health data across the country.
He found that when COVID-19 deaths were annualized Arizona had a per capita death rate of 177.8, higher than both heart disease and cancer, which are frequently the two leading causes of death in the state.
The AZPHA told ABC15 that CDC’s Wonder data can only be considered complete to 2019, a lag that is common for health data that is not under emergency reporting requirements. Will Humble, executive director for the AZPHA told ABC15 that despite the lag, they remain confident in their finding since both heart disease and cancer death rates have remained relatively constant in Arizona in the CDC dataset between 2010 and 2019.
The report also looked at two other western states with similar populations to Arizona; Washington and Colorado and found that COVID-19 was not the leading cause of death in either state. When they looked at the top five leading causes, COVID-19 came up third in both states, and well below heart disease and cancer. While both Colorado and Washington have slightly younger populations than Arizona, Humble, who has been a frequent critic of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s handling of the pandemic, said that would not account for the large discrepancies and that the difference is one of policy.
“The policy changes and the differences in whether a state did universal masking statewide, whether states are encouraging masking within the school system to cut down the chains of transmission, whether the state did something about the transmission in bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. During last winter, our governor did nothing,” said Humble.
ABC15 reached out to the Governor’s office for comment but has not yet heard back. Another possible reason for the discrepancy may be in the vaccination rates between the three states. According to data from the Mayo Clinic, Washington’s vaccination rate for individuals over the age of 65 is 96.7%, in Colorado, it is 93.4%. Arizona lags behind both states at 86.4%