Sarah Palmer talks to a driver before administering a COVID-19 test. The City and Borough of Juneau is offering free, asymptomatic testing. The drive-thru testing is available daily through Jan. 10 with the exception of New Year’s Day. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Sarah Palmer talks to a driver before administering a COVID-19 test. The City and Borough of Juneau is offering free, asymptomatic testing. The drive-thru testing is available daily through Jan. 10 with the exception of New Year’s Day. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

COVID-19 among leading causes of death for Alaska in 2020

When the final numbers come in, the disease may be fourth or fifth leading cause of death in-state.

With 205 reported COVID-19 deaths this year, the rapidly spreading virus is on track to be one of the leading causes of death for Alaskans in 2020.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with underlying health problems — it can cause more severe illness or death.

More than 45,000 Alaskans, or 16% of the state have tested positive for COVID-19, according to state data, with the first confirmed case in Juneau occurring on March 22. Five deaths attributed to COVID-19 have occurred in Juneau since that time.

Based on available data, in a typical year the coronavirus would be the fourth or fifth leading cause of death in Alaska. Cancer, heart disease, and unintentional injuries/accidents have led Alaska as causes for death in that order since 2014, according to Department of Health and Human Services data.

So far in 2020, there have been 832 deaths from cancer, 713 from heart disease and 349 from accidental causes, according a Division of Public Health report updated in late November.

[Race to vaccinate millions in US off to slow, messy start]

In a usual year, chronic lower respiratory disease, intentional self-harm/death by suicide and cerebrovascular disease (stroke) generally occupy the fourth, fifth, and sixth spots, with some variation. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, 221 Alaskans died of chronic lower respiratory disease, 214 of stroke and 184 of intentional self-harm.

Diabetes, chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis, Alzheimer’s disease, homicide and influenza round out the top 10.

Michael S. Lockett has his nose swabbed by Sarah Palmer during a drive-thru COVID-19 test on Dec. 31. City and Borough of Juneau is offering free, asymptomatic testing by appointment. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Michael S. Lockett has his nose swabbed by Sarah Palmer during a drive-thru COVID-19 test on Dec. 31. City and Borough of Juneau is offering free, asymptomatic testing by appointment. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Overall deaths in Alaska were higher in 2020, according to a DHSS report, although there have been fewer of certain types of fatality.

“During January through October of 2020, compared to average deaths from the same time period in 2017 – 2019, mortality counts and rates appear lower for assault (homicide), motor vehicle accidents, and kidney disease,” the report said. “Compared to 2017-2019, mortality counts for heart disease, malignant neoplasms, diabetes, and chronic liver disease are slightly elevated in 2020.”

Squared against data available from 2017-2019, this past year has seen 285 more deaths during the months of January through October. Data for November and December is not yet available for all causes of death, according to DHSS.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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