CASPER – Wyoming recorded significantly more deaths in 2020 than in the prior year, new figures from the Wyoming Department of Health show.
The state documented 5,983 deaths last year — an increase of 862, or 16 percent, compared with the year prior. While increases do occur from year to year, this year’s was notably larger, a health department official noted in a statement released Friday.
“Our data has shown steady, small increases in deaths for several years largely due to our state’s aging population,” said Guy Beaudoin, the Vital Statistics Services deputy state registrar with the health department. “But before the COVID-19 pandemic hit we never would have predicted the large jump we saw in 2020.”
COVID-19 was a clear driver of the increase.
The health department said the deaths of 528 Wyoming residents were tied to the virus last year. The coronavirus was the third-leading cause of death among Wyomingites in 2020 after heart disease and cancer.
Ranking fourth was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, followed by various types of accidents.
By the end of 2020, the department had reported 438 deaths caused by COVID-19 — 90 fewer than the number announced Friday. That the number grew is not a surprise, however, as reported death totals have tended to lag behind actual numbers because of the time it takes to process death certificates.
“It’s clear that COVID-19 was a driving factor for increased deaths in 2020 in addition to the small growth we would have expected due to Wyoming’s overall aging population,” Beaudoin said. “It’s not nearly as clear what caused the other ‘excess deaths’ but possibilities include COVID-19 related deaths that were missed or the avoidance of either routine or emergency medical care during the pandemic.”
Suicides and drug overdoses also rose in 2019, though the trend had been increasing prior to last year.
In 2020, the state recorded 181 suicides among Wyoming residents, compared with 170 in 2019 and 148 the year before.
Wyoming has for years had one of the nation’s highest suicide rates. The number of suicides did increase in 2020, though not by a historically large amount, Beaudoin said.
Last year, 89 overdose deaths were reported here, up from 81 in 2019 and 64 in 2018. There has been a growing trend of overdose deaths tied to illicit, rather than prescription, drugs, the health department said.
While deaths rose considerably in Wyoming in 2020, births continued the opposite trend. There were 6,127 births last year, compared with 6,557 the year prior. That decline in births has existed for several years.