Nurse Simon Platt stands inside the room of a COVID-19 patient at UT Southwestern's William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital. Elizabeth Lavin

Coronavirus

COVID-19 Is Now the Leading Cause of Death in Dallas County

Pandemic deaths surpassed deaths from heart disease, cancer, and other conditions over the last year, PCCI says.

Coronavirus is now the most common cause of death among Dallas County residents over the past year. According to the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, the Dallas-based research institute that has tracked the pandemic since last March, COVID-19 now surpasses heart disease, cancer, and stroke as the most fatal conditions in the county.

The data arrived shortly after the first anniversary of the first COVID-19 death in Dallas County on March 19, 2020. By March 21, 2021, deaths in Dallas County from COVID-19 stood at 3,763. This surpassed estimated deaths due to heart disease (3,668), cancer (3,356) and strokes (1,015) during that same period.  

The same pattern is reflected nationwide. In early February of this year, COVID-19 became the leading cause of death in the U.S, with an average of more than 2,400 COVID-19 deaths per day. 

How Does Dallas County define a COVID Death? 

Last April, Dr. Deborah Birx, who was then the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said, “If someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that as a COVID-19 death.” 

In Dallas, defining COVID-19 deaths isn’t a simple task. COVID-19 kills in myriad ways, typically setting off a combination of potentially fatal complications. Some public health guidance from early in the pandemic only fed skepticism as officials scrambled to track the disease while it began to overwhelm healthcare services. 

“The way we calculate that [COVID-19 deaths] is based on both confirmed and probable COVID deaths,” says Vikas Chowdhry, the chief analytics and information officer at PCCI. Confirmed deaths includes individuals whose death certificate lists COVID-19 as cause of death and have a confirmed COVID-19 case through a PCR test, which are confirmed in a lab. A probable COVID death is an individual whose death certificate lists COVID-19 as cause (or, there is no death certificate yet but are being tracked as probable COVID-19 case by state/local health department) but they don’t have a confirmed case through a PCR test. “That’s based on the guidance that we received from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists,” he said.

The data used by Chowdhry and PCCI differ slightly from what is collected by Dallas County Health and Human Services. Dallas County calculates confirmed deaths based on lab testing and heart calculation. “Our data, which we get from the New York Times COVID-19 project, is based on probable cases that’s based on specific criteria for symptom and exposure,” Chowdhry says. Those figures are based on the probable and confirmed definition as well. 

The same standards in tracking data on COVID-19 deaths are used by most major news organizations based on standardized guidelines from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. 

Key Factors and What Can Be Done 

On December 21, 2020, Dallas County had just over 1,800 deaths from COVID-19. That doubled in three months through the winter. Chowdry anticipated holiday travel as a critical driver in the surge. 

“Folks let their guard down because of COVID fatigue, and that’s why we consistently insist that folks follow the guidance from public health officials and until we get to herd immunity. According to predictions in June, be very careful and practice social distancing, wear masks, and get vaccinated,” Chowdhry says. 

The spring break partying is a concern from experts who are fearful of another COVID-19 surge, and that’s why vaccinations are so important, Chowdhry says. 

On March 23, 2021, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that all adults older than 16 are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, which has been effective in reducing the sort of severe case of the disease that causes hospitalization and death.  

As more Texans get vaccinated, that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. Fully vaccinated residents can still be infected with the virus, so it’s imperative that everyone still follows social assistance recommendations and then make sure that they and their peers are getting vaccinated as well. 

“We expect that after spring break, we will not see much of a rise in either severe hospitalizations or deaths due to COVID compared to what happened in November and December,” Chowdhry says. “Even though some of the case numbers may rise after spring break, because of vaccinations, we will not see as much of a surge in ICU admissions or deaths due to COVID. But that, of course, is all dependent upon us.” 

Not vaccinated yet? We have a guide to help you sign up to get a dose.

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