In 2020, more Oregonians are dying that is considered normal. Despite the global pandemic, not all of the increase can be blamed on COVID-19.
Around 980 Oregonians have died so far above the state’s five-year average, according to reporting by the Statesman Journal. Of those, 247 were due to the coronavirus, while 735 people died beyond the average and in addition to COVID-19 deaths.
There were 19,652 deaths in Oregon through July 25, according to data provided to the Statesman Journal by the Oregon Health Authority – 982 more deaths than typical. A similar rise in excess deaths has been recorded throughout the nation.
State health officials attributed the disparity to an under-reporting of COVID-19 fatalities, citing the lack of testing and people who don’t seek medical attention, and indicated the virus could be deadlier than the numbers are showing.
Oregon’s first reported case of the coronavirus was announced Feb. 28. The Statesman Journal report said the lack of testing early in the pandemic hampered the ability of medical professionals to diagnose the disease in several instances until testing was expanded in May.
“For example, there have been numerous people who may have at-risk exposure to COVID-19, but because they did not have symptoms, they were not tested,” Oregon State professor and director of the Center for Global Health Chunhuei Chi told the Statesman Journal. “Also related is up till early March, there was virtually little to no testing of COVID-19 in the U.S. Some of the excess deaths occurred up till March may have misdiagnosed for other causes, such as pneumonia or influenza.”
The lag in reporting has been seen as a contributing factor to under-reported COVID-19 deaths, according to a paper published in the Journal of American Medical Association. Some experts say the COVID-19 mortality rate could be 50 to 100 times higher than the flu.
Also adding to the increasing death statistics is people who seek less medical care or who are denied access to care. The pandemic put facilities on high alert, rationing medical supplies and stopping non-emergency procedures for months. The Statesman Journal, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported hospital emergency department visits declined nationally by 23 percent for heart attacks, 20 percent for strokes, and 10 percent for high blood sugar for those with diabetes.
Hospital workers have accounted for 10.1 percent of COVID-19 cases in Oregon, according to the OHA. Fear of the coronavirus has led some to avoid healthcare facilities and medical staff, which only makes existing conditions worse.