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Covid Remained a Leading Cause of Death Among Americans in 2022

Covid was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year, dropping from its place as the third leading cause in 2020 and 2021, when virus fatalities were superseded only by heart disease and cancer, the National Center for Health Statistics reported on Thursday.

Unintentional injuries — a category that includes drug overdoses and car accidents — were responsible for more deaths than Covid last year and were the nation’s third leading cause of death. Deaths from heart disease and cancer both rose in 2022, compared with 2021.

Some 186,702 of the 3.2 million deaths in the United States in 2022 were caused by Covid. The virus contributed to another 58,284 deaths for which it was not deemed the underlying cause. A large proportion of Covid deaths occurred during the first months of 2022.

Altogether, the virus played some role in about a quarter million deaths last year, a 47 percent decrease from the 462,193 Covid-related deaths in 2021.

ImageA hospital worker in head-to-toe protective gear, including masks and latex gloves, places a blanket over a Covid patient in a hospital bed with a lot of medical equipment on a stand behind it.
A medical worker tends to a patient with Covid in the intensive care unit of Brooklyn Hospital Center in January 2022.Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

The Covid death rate fell by almost half last year, as the age-adjusted figure dropped to 61.3 deaths per 100,000 persons from 115.6 per 100,000 persons in 2021. The data are proof that the pandemic’s toll eased considerably as 2022 wore on.

But the report’s authors noted that even now, Covid is killing Americans in large numbers.

“The death rate went down by a lot, but we also want to emphasize we’re not out of the woods here,” said Dr. Robert Anderson, the chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics. “There are still a lot of people who died, and we’re still seeing deaths in 2023 as well.”

Nearly 35,000 people have died of Covid so far this year, he added. The number of total deaths in the United States is still higher than it was before the pandemic, which was 2.9 million, suggesting that Covid has had a broader effect on death rates generally. The outbreak led some people to defer health care, for example, and exacerbated other illnesses they might have had.

“We would expect some increase in the number of deaths because the population is aging, but this is far and above what we would have expected without the pandemic,” Dr. Anderson said.

Men, adults age 85 or older and Native American or Alaska Native people were much more likely than other Americans to have died of Covid last year. By contrast, Asian Americans and children ages 5 to 14 had the lowest death rates.

Black Americans and Native American or Alaska Native people had the highest age-adjusted death rates from all causes. Death rates were lowest for multiracial and Asian individuals.

Compared with the early days of the pandemic, Covid was less likely to be lethal last year. It accounted for 76 percent of cases where it was listed on death certificates, compared with 90 percent during the first two years of the pandemic.

The number of deaths caused by Covid is expected to continue to decline this year, but still could exceed 100,000, Dr. Anderson said: “It looks like the number will continue to decline, but it is still not trivial.”

A version of this article appears in print on  , Section A, Page 15 of the New York edition with the headline: Covid-19 Dropped to 4th as a Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. in 2022. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe