|The U.S. Covid-19 outbreak passed a grim milestone this week. It’s now likely the third-leading cause of death for Americans this year, behind only heart disease and cancer.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year tracks the way Americans die, producing tables of data that measure the health of a nation and—hopefully—the grinding progress of public health. (The most recent published data from the CDC are for 2018, though there’s typically little change from year to year.)
Over the years, those tables have shown the gradual progress against diseases like cancer and diabetes, as well as worrying increases in problems like drug overdose.
What’s almost unheard of is for a new cause of death to suddenly make the top 10, or for the order to instantly change.
But this year so far, Covid-19 has killed at least 173,000 Americans. That’s more than than fatal accidents, chronic respiratory diseases, cerebrovascular diseases like strokes, drug overdoses, Alzheimer’s or diabetes. (Deaths from influenza ranked eighth in 2017 and 2018, killing 55,672 and 59,120 those years, respectively—less than a third of what Covid-19 has done so far this year.)
We’ve lived with most of those ailments for so long, they’re thought of less as a crisis and more as an inevitable ending to be chipped away at little by little, typically at great expense and effort. This new killer isn’t one we want to grow used to.