GREAT FALLS — The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) released a report on Tuesday stating the death rate among Montana residents increased by 14% in 2020 compared with the previous five-year average. State health officials say that COVID-19 is the main reason for the increase.
The report states that nearly 75% of COVID deaths in Montana were people age 70 and older, and nearly 70% of COVID deaths had at least one underlying medical condition. The report also noted that Native Americans make up about 7% of Montana’s population, but represent 18% of reported COVID-related deaths in the state.
COVID was the third leading cause of death in 2020 with 1,104 deaths. The first COVID death in Montana was reported on March 26, 2020.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the health and daily lives of Montanans,” said DPHHS Director Adam Meier in a news release. “Our hearts go out to all those who have lost a loved one over the past year as we approach the anniversary of the state’s first COVID-19 related death. This report illustrates how this has impacted Montanans all across the state.”
Provisional data on vital events, such as births and deaths, indicate that 2020 was the first year since records started in 1908 in which the number of deaths exceeded the number of births: 12,018 deaths and 10,791 births. The report notes there were 12,018 deaths reported to DPHHS in 2020 compared to the average of 10,086 deaths from 2015-19.
Heart disease and cancer were the first and second leading causes of death in 2020 and 2015–2019, accounting for about 40% of all deaths. Deaths due to chronic liver disease and homicide were significantly higher in 2020 compared with 2015–2019.
Deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease and influenza and pneumonia were significantly lower in 2020 compared with 2015–2019. The report credits this due to decreased influenza activity in the US and elsewhere in 2020, which coincided with COVID mitigation efforts.
The cause of death recorded on a death certificate is determined by a physician, advanced practice nurse, or coroner and is reported to DPHHS. Information on deaths occurring in a calendar year are usually not finalized until mid-year the following year. Fewer than 2% of death certificates have incomplete information, which may impact the categorization of a small number of deaths.