Less than half are Covid-19 fatalities, but pandemic restrictions may play major role
By Guy Page
Vermonters died at a 12% greater rate than expected in 2021 and are on track to die at a 17% greater rate in 2022.
What’s going on? Why – according to census and CDC-based statistics – are more Vermonters dying?
Answer #1: it’s not just a Vermont phenomenon, it’s happening everywhere, according to USMortality.com.
Answer #2: a ‘perfect storm’ of deadly activity has struck Vermont – much of it pandemic-related.
But first, here are the raw numbers, according to USMortality.com. Vermont reported 6,580 deaths of all ages for the year 2021. Expected deaths – based on the previous five-year average and other statistical factors – were 5,875. That is an increase of 705 deaths (+12.0%). To date, for 2022, Vermont has reported 1,456 deaths of all ages. Expected deaths thus far were 1,246. That is an increase of 210 deaths (+16.9%).
The United States reported 3,440,551 deaths of all ages for the year 2020. Expected deaths were 3,028,959. That is an increase of 411,592 deaths (+13.6%). For 2021, the U.S. reported 3,457,485 deaths of all ages. Expected deaths were 2,971,452 – up 486,033 (+16.4%). To date for 2022, the U.S. has 752,318 deaths of all ages. Expected deaths thus far were 620,669. That is an increase of 131,649 deaths (+21.2%).
In Vermont, there reported 5,907 deaths of all ages for 2020. Expected deaths were 5,981. That is a decrease of -74 deaths (-1.2%). Vermont reported 6,521 deaths of all ages for 2021. Expected deaths were 5,875. That is an increase of 646 deaths (+11.0%). To date, for 2022, Vermont has reported 1,456 deaths of all ages. Expected deaths, thus far, were 1,246 – up 210 deaths (+16.9%).
Data and analysis of 2021 mortality data show increases not only in Covid-19 fatalities, but in opioid, suicide, alcohol abuse, traffic deaths and other killers – with at least some of these deaths directly connected to the pandemic and pandemic restrictions.
According to Vermont Dept. of Health death certificate data, 331 Vermonters died of Covid-19 in 2021, either as a Cause of Death (first, second, third, and fourth cause) or as among “other significant conditions contributing to death.”
Suicide: 24 excess deaths. According to the VT Dept. of Health Monthly Suicide Report for March 2022, 141 people committed suicide in 2021 – up 24 from a three-year average of 117. People over the age of 25 have a higher rate of suicide death compared to previous years. The number of poisoning deaths is nearly 2 times higher than previous years. Rural counties account for 82% of suicide deaths.
“The psychological sequelae of the pandemic will probably persist for months and years to come,” an October, 2020 QJM on suicide and the pandemic said. “Studies indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, depression and insomnia in the general population and among healthcare professionals.”
Opioids – 61 excess deaths. According to the VT Dept. of Health Monthly Opioid Report, 181 Vermonters died of opioid overdoses through November, up from a three-year average of 120. March was the deadliest month, with 26 – 22 of these deaths involving fentanyl, a highly-potent synthetic opioid.
Not only have treatment options been limited by pandemic restrictions, but the American at-risk population faces temporary housing and other challenges required by social distancing policies, according to federal studies. Also – significantly – opioids suppress breathing capacity, a potentially deadly effect for people suffering respiratory diseases such as Covid-19.
“The opioid crisis and COVID-19 pandemic are intersecting with each other and presenting unprecedented challenges for families and communities,” federal health officials say.
Alcohol – comparison data unavailable. 2021 data show 203 Vermont deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use. 70.9% of deaths are male. 64% due to chronic causes, such as alcoholism; 88% among those 35 years old or older. 2019-20 Vermont alcohol mortality data couldn’t be found. However, a 2017 Dept. of Health report on alcohol abuse states: “the most common chronic cause of death in the 5-year period from 2012 to 2016 was alcoholic liver disease with an average of 49 deaths per year, most of whom were men over the age of 50.
Economists as well as healthcare and addiction specialists agree the pandemic and quarantines of 2020 had a significant impact on nationwide alcohol consumption. According to a JAMA study, more than 99,000 people suffered alcohol-related deaths — a 25.5 percent spike over the previous year. More adults under 65 died from alcohol-related factors (74,408) than from COVID-19 (74,075) in 2020.
Lockdowns imposed in 2020 in Vermont included in-person AA meetings and other alcohol-counseling. However, liquor stores remained open by state order. Also, bars were allowed to deliver drinks for the first time in Vermont’s history of alcohol regulation.
Traffic deaths – 11 excess deaths. 73 Vermonters died in highway accidents in 2021, compared with a four-year average of 62, according to Agency of Transportation data. 38 states saw increases in 2021 traffic deaths.
Vermont’s 32% annual highway fatality increase in 2020 was just a point behind national leaders South Dakota and Washington DC.
“While the number of annual roadway fatalities declined for many years, progress plateaued over the last decade and now alarmingly fatalities have risen during the pandemic,” a Jan. 7 federal transportation report notes. Some observers blame reduced policing and fewer cars on the road leading to more reckless driving.
“The pandemic appears to be taking our eyes off the ball when it comes to traffic safety,” a Minnesota highway official said. Increased speed is a factor, and tests of trauma center patients involved in traffic crashes show increased use of alcohol, marijuana and opiods, he said.
Federal data do not address excess deaths caused by a reaction to Covid-19 vaccination. VT Dept. of Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a recent press conference he is unaware of any fatalities in Vermont or nationwide due to the Pfizer vaccine. The CDC’s VAERS reporting system claims more than 6000 Covid-19 vax-related deaths nationwide as of July, 2021.
A January, 2022 UVM/University of Maine study by Jennifer Laurent and other researchers found pandemic-related increases in these unhealthy behaviors:
Weight gain: 43.2% of Vermont respondents indicated weight gain since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Type II (adult) diabetes: about 3 times higher than 2020 Vermont data.
Substance abuse: Consumption of street drugs, alcohol, marijuana and tobacco all increased during the pandemic, among people already consumers of these drugs.
“Our findings suggest significant health behavior changes and worsening health outcomes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Laurent study said. “A reduction in fruit and vegetable consumption, poor medication adherence, greater use of one or more habit-forming substances, and increasing levels of stress, depression, and anxiety may exacerbate chronic disease prevalence and severity.”