PUYALLUP, WA — The coronavirus may have become one of the top causes of death in Pierce County, according to county health officials.
As epidemiologist Ingrid Friberg explains in a blog post on Tacoma - Pierce County Health Department's website, the county expects that COVID-19 will be in the top ten causes of death in Pierce County in 2020, and may have even been the third most common cause of death in several particularly deadly months.
"For the months of April and August, we expect COVID-19 to be the third most common cause of death in our county, compared to data through 2018," writes Friberg. "More recent data are not available yet."
Nationally, experts expect the coronavirus to be the third largest cause of death this year.
As of Monday, a total of 164 Pierce County residents have been killed by the coronavirus pandemic. Friberg warns that, though the virus is normally only dangerous to those with underlying health conditions, that still puts many people at significant risk.
"Most COVID-19 deaths in Pierce County are in people 75 or older. But, almost half of people 18 and older have an underlying health condition," Friberg said. "Thanks to medications, many of those underlying conditions wouldn’t normally be fatal. But COVID-19 is a threat to everybody."
Just this month a 22-year-old Pierce County woman was killed by the virus. In early August, 2019 Puyallup High School grad Eli Sevener died just days after being hospitalized with complications due to the coronavirus. He did not have any underlying health conditions.
"COVID-19 appears to be responsible for more deaths than strokes, Alzheimer’s, accidents, diabetes, or suicides," Friberg said. "This is true both when most COVID-19 cases are in older people, like in April, or like in August when most COVID-19 cases were in younger people."
Friberg's report does note that, as the pandemic is still in full swing, we won't have more complete data until next year at the earliest.
But even if projections are off and the virus is less deadly than other causes, health officials say it's still a tragedy that it has cut so many lives short.
"These folks had stories and dreams and the opportunity lost for us as a community is immeasurable," said Benjii Bittle, Business Development Manager for the Health Department. "If they were old, they were our elders and carried our stories and traditions. If they were young, they held the promise of infinite possibilities—of inventions and novels and cures. If they were middle aged, they were old enough to learn from their mistakes and young enough to live differently and leave a legacy if given the time."
To prevent any more deaths or resurgences of the virus, experts ask that everyone continue to follow safety guidelines, limiting close contact with those outside your household, wearing a mask, and maintaining a safe social distance of six feet when in public.