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The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have driven an increase in Arizona deaths, which are up statewide by 22% through August. (Photo: Nick Oza/The Republic)

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have driven an increase in Arizona deaths, which are up statewide by 22% through August.

When the number of COVID-19 deaths reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services through August are subtracted, Arizona deaths are still up by nearly 10% over the first eight months of the previous year, the data shows. 

Year-over-year increases in overall deaths in Arizona typically range between 1% and 4%.

There’s no definitive evidence to explain the excess deaths beyond COVID-19 fatalities in 2020, but there are theories.

Some health experts say that while COVID-19 accounts for a majority of the jump in deaths, excess deaths could be from factors related to the pandemic, including delayed medical care and a general reluctance to go to hospital emergency rooms.

Some excess deaths could be because of an undercount of COVID-19 deaths during the early days of the pandemic when testing was not widely available.

Another factor could be a lag in deaths showing up in official COVID-19 counts. Some COVID-19 deaths may be misclassified as other causes such as pneumonia and will be adjusted in the future.

By Aug. 31, Arizona had reported 5,029 known deaths from COVID-19 and the state had also recorded 49,304 deaths from all known causes in 2020. 

Those raw numbers are up by 22% over the 40,278 deaths reported through August 2019, state data shows.

There were 8,182 deaths recorded in Arizona in July, which was 66% higher than the 4,923 deaths the state reported in July 2019. July was also when hospitalizations for COVID-19 surged at Arizona hospitals.

The all-cause death rate in Arizona for the first eight months of the year typically ranges from 65 per 100,000 people to 77 per 100,000 people, but this year the range has been much higher, said Will Humble, who is executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

In July, the rate was 111.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to an association analysis — a 63% jump over the rate of deaths in July 2019.

“All-cause mortality doesn’t lie,” Humble said. “To me, that makes the case that this is a pretty lethal pandemic that we’re in.”

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Deadly delays in cardiac care

Hospitals across the state have been reporting lower emergency room volumes and general delays in seeking care.

National and state data have shown a significant drop in the number of patients with cardiac arrests showing up in emergency departments, said Dr. Jaskamal Kahlon, an interventional cardiologist at the Banner Heart Hospital in Mesa.

“Overall, the number of patients coming in with heart attacks has gone down dramatically. We have definitive data on that; it’s in Arizona and all across the country,” Kahlon said.

“We have data on how many people come