How do Alberta's COVID-19 fatalities compare with other causes of deaths?
Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at LifeLabs after being logged upon receipt at the company’s lab, in Surrey, B.C., March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
EDMONTON -- COVID-19 killed more Albertans over the past 11 months than any cause of death in 2019, excluding only dementia and heart disease, according to the province’s data.
As of Friday morning, 1,874 Albertans had died due to COVID-19 with 1,211 of them having died in 2020.
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"We must remember that every death, and every case, is not merely a number but a fellow Albertan who loved and was loved by many," the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, told reporters on Feb. 22.
The chart below compares the province’s COVID-19 deaths with the 20 leading causes of death from 2019, the last year for which full data is available, from the province's open data portal.
The data reveals the magnitude of the province’s COVID-19 death toll, which exceeds almost all other causes of death.
According to the data, COVID-19 has killed more than three times the number of Albertans who died due to strokes in 2019 and more than four times the number of those who died from breast or prostate cancer over the same year.
The order of magnitude grows when comparing coronavirus deaths with Alzheimer's disease (more than five times), kidney failure (seven times) and Parkinson’s disease (over eight times more).
Statistics on excess mortality, the number of deaths beyond what would be considered normal in a given period, can also illustrate COVID-19 death’s toll.
StatsCanada is still tabulating those figures for the final weeks of 2020, but says 15 per cent of Canada’s excess deaths between September and November occurred in Alberta.
The agency does have partial data, tabulated weekly, with results from Jan. 11 to Dec. 5, with a total of 1,599 excess deaths in that period, though not all of them are necessarily attributable to COVID-19.
That data shows Alberta was seeing negative excess deaths in five of the eight reporting periods before the pandemic took hold in March.
After that, the province saw excess deaths dip into the negative only twice, and by just a combined five deaths over those two weeks.
The weekly number of excess deaths peaked at 110 the week of Nov. 28 and hasn’t sank below 33 since late October.
However, these comparisons do have several limits.
We are nearing, but have yet to reach, the first anniversary of Alberta’s first case (March 6, 2020) or Alberta’s first death (March 18, 2020).
Also, delays in death reporting mean the province is still tabulating deaths from 2020, including at least 17 newly reported deaths from December this week alone.
Death reporting is notoriously difficult and time-consuming, with some doctors warning the COVID-19 death toll is actually understated.
The province’s population grew slightly between 2019 and 2020, up by 97,000, according to provincial data. As expected, the number of deaths has each year grown as Alberta’s population increases.
As a reference, there were 231 more deaths in 2019 compared to 2018 while the population grew by nearly 62,000 people over that time.
It’s also noteworthy that almost all other causes of death in the top 20 are not contagious diseases like COVID-19 and so are unlikely to suddenly grow at a rapid pace.
Albertans can take heart in that the number of daily deaths is trending downwards as 2021 progresses, with the seven-day moving average falling from 22.3 at the start of 2021, to 8.3 at the start of February and down to 3.1 as of Feb. 21 and pending further revisions.
"These trends were not inevitable, and are not due to just the passing of time," said Dr. Hinshaw. "These trends are the result of our willingness to put our communities’ needs first and care for each other every day."
"This is the power of our actions together."