RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- New preliminary data is painting a clearer picture of Virginia’s death toll during the coronavirus pandemic and it suggests that the period between March 2020 through February 2021 had far more fatalities than usual.
Using historic data and accounting for population growth, researchers expected that Virginia would’ve seen 70,704 total deaths during those months if the pandemic never happened. Instead, death certificates filed through the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Office of Vital Records (OVR) show there were 82,772 fatalities overall.
That means there was an excess of 12,068 deaths recorded during one year of the pandemic, a 17 percent increase from the expected total.
Rosie Hobron, a forensic epidemiologist for VDH’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said a typical percent increase from year-to-year would fall between 1.2 percent to 3.4 percent.
“I would say it is unprecedented to see this large of a spike,” Hobron said. “We hear a lot of stuff about how the pandemic isn’t real, the deaths are over counted or they are just being signed off as COVID deaths. So the big highlight here is that, with an extra 12,000 deaths, if they aren’t COVID, what are they?”
Most–but not all–of the excess deaths documented by the state have been connected to a coronavirus diagnosis. According to the data, in nearly 82 percent of these fatalities, COVID-19 was a determined as a cause or contributor to death.
The increase also reflects the pandemic’s impact on addiction. It’s estimated that fatal drug overdoses accounted for 673 excess deaths between March 2020 and February 2021, a 5.6 percent increase compared to 2019.
Looking at overall overdose deaths in 2020, Virginia saw an estimated 45 percent increase compared to 2019, according to Hobron.
“It’s the highest Virginia has ever seen and 2019 had actually set the record,” Hobron said. “They’ve just grown astronomically and Virginia isn’t the only state that is seeing this.”
One thing Hobron was surprised to see was relatively stable statewide suicide rates during the pandemic, as many fear isolation is worsening mental health conditions.
“Everything is really just on par with what we have seen. Some of the demographic groups we need to do a deeper dive on. We are going to look at some of the child suicides. We have heard some reports that those have increased,” Hobron said.