Iowa's COVID-19 death toll exceeds annual vehicle fatalities

Less than two months after Iowa recorded its first death attributed to novel coronavirus, the number of reported COVID-19 deaths in the state reached 404 on May 21, surpassing the highest number of annual fatalities in Iowa vehicle crashes over the past decade.

Traffic accidents claimed 402 Iowa lives in 2016, according to Iowa Department of Transportation data. That was nearly 25 percent higher than the three previous years, and state legislators responded by enacting a tougher law in 2017 to discourage distracted driving. Annual deaths from vehicle crashes in Iowa stayed mostly below 340 during the 2010s; the transportation agency counted 336 traffic fatalities in 2019.

COVID-19 has also claimed more Iowa lives during the past two months than Parkinson’s disease did in 2018, the last year for which full statistics are available. Parkinson’s was the state’s tenth leading cause of death that year, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Given the rate of deaths recorded so far this month, during the next two weeks COVID-19 will likely surpass the number of Iowa lives lost annually to suicide, which has recently been the state’s ninth leading cause of death. Public health statistics indicate 479 Iowans took their own lives in 2017 and 477 did so in 2018.

Influenza or pneumonia killed an estimated 578 Iowans during 2017 and 672 people the following year, making it the state’s eighth leading cause of death. Worth noting: those deaths occurred over the course of twelve months with no special mitigation efforts in place. COVID-19 has already killed more than 400 Iowans despite unusual steps to promote social distancing, such as closures of schools and some businesses, and restricted visits to residents of nursing homes since mid-March.

I created this graph to show the daily coronavirus deaths reported in Iowa so far. The red line represents the seven-day moving average. The state stopped releasing daily case and death numbers on May 6 and started updating the website more frequently on May 18, making it more difficult to track daily statistics. For consistency, I’ve been updating my own spreadsheet at 10:00 am each day, so the total deaths depicted here equal 400. The state’s website added four additional deaths later on the morning of May 21.

About 88 percent of the Iowans who have died of coronavirus were over the age of 60, data published on the state’s official website show. Governor Kim Reynolds has repeatedly stated at her news conferences that nursing home residents account for more than half of the fatalities.

An estimated 77 percent of Iowans who have died were white, and at least 81 percent were not Hispanic or Latino.

White people account for about 56 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases at this writing. Although people of color make up a disproportionate share of Iowans who have contracted the virus, the disparity is not as pronounced in deaths, presumably because the overwhelming majority of the state’s nursing home residents are white.

Top image created by the Centers for Disease Control to illustrate “ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.”

Tags: COVID-19
  • I hope media attention will eventually be paid...

    …to how many Iowans who have recovered from Covid-19 are experiencing long-lasting serious impacts that have been reported in the medical press. Those impacts include a variety of problems that range from PTSD to permanent organ damage. I hope only a tiny percentage of Iowans will experience those problems. But whether it’s a tiny percentage or a larger percentage, it’s important information.

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