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Excess deaths in DC rise 40%, as residents avoid hospitals during coronavirus pandemic

Data analysis suggests that as routine doctor’s visits decline in DC, mortality rates for preventable deaths are rising.

WASHINGTON — The District’s top health official said more people in the nation’s capital are now dying of treatable ailments, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as routine visits to hospitals and primary care providers continue to fall.

The leading hypothesis issued Wednesday by the DC Department of Health is that while people continue to stay home, check-ups and hospital visits are being postponed.

The delays may result in deadly consequences, officials said, contributing to a significant rise in the number of deaths D.C. recorded between January and May 2020.

“We’ve been looking at what we would consider to be excess deaths, and we’ve seen a 40% increase,” D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said in a news conference. “About 54% of those deaths are related to COVID-19. But 46% of the excess deaths we’ve seen in the District are not related to COVID-19.”

Deaths from treatable diseases are climbing, while deaths from accidents are falling, Nesbitt offered.

Data analysis suggests that as routine doctor’s visits decline in D.C., mortality rates for preventable deaths are rising.

To combat the trend, the District will soon begin promoting two public health campaigns. The District of Columbia Hospital Association (DCHA) presented the slogan, “Don’t Delay Care” at Wednesday’s news conference, while the American Heart Association offered, “Don’t Die of Doubt.”

“Hospitals are safe, a safe place for you to be in, and our first priority is protecting your health,” Jacqueline Bowens, CEO of the DCHA, said. 

Nesbitt added that the city is seeing a rise in late-stage HIV diagnoses as well – an increase coupled with data analyzed between January and May 2020.

In a strikingly sobering note, Nesbitt said Washington’s Black and Latinx populations are disproportionately affected by the current rise in excess deaths, in parallel with the increased mortality rates inflicted by coronavirus.

“Every year, we have African-American and Latinx populations who are disproportionately impacted across our leading causes of death annually" Nesbitt said. "And unfortunately, that has not changed.”

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