Percentage of deaths due to COVID-19 in Douglas County in 2020 was less than rates for U.S. and Kansas, analyst says

photo by: Kevin Anderson/Journal-World File Photo

The Lawrence-Douglas County health department's home at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine St., is pictured in this file photo from July 2010.

In 2020, the percentage of deaths due to COVID-19 in Douglas County was less than the rates for both the U.S. and Kansas.

That’s according to a data brief from Dee Kinard, a senior analyst with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, which compares the 2020 leading causes of death for Douglas County with the U.S. and Kansas, examines how COVID-19 may have directly or indirectly affected trends in overall mortality in the county and discusses the public health implications of its findings.

According to the data brief, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S., Kansas and Douglas County in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer. But in Douglas County, COVID-19 accounted only for 6.1% of deaths, while the rate was around 10% for both the U.S. and Kansas as a whole.

Kinard’s report found that, overall, more deaths occurred in Douglas County in 2020 — 869 of them — than in any of the previous five years, dating back to 2015. But the study also contends that while COVID may have influenced overall mortality in the county, the county’s mortality rate wasn’t abnormally high. And the mortality rate for 2020 isn’t statistically higher than the rates for three of those five years: 2015, 2017 and 2018.

It’s noted in the data brief’s conclusions that one limitation of the report is that it compares only single years, in part because 2021 and 2022 death records weren’t available when the report was being written, when typically multiple years are used in ranking causes of death at the county level. A relatively small number of deaths by cause of death creates large margins of error that make statistical comparisons between causes difficult and subgroup comparisons by demographics like age or race unreliable, according to the report.

But Kinard asserts that the brief still illustrates the impact COVID-19 had in Douglas County in 2020 despite any limitations. Per the report, a relatively lower proportion of deaths attributable to COVID-19 in the county may explain why the overall 2020 mortality rate wasn’t statistically higher than in 2015, 2017 and 2018 — years when there were relatively equivalent numbers of deaths when omitting the roughly 142 COVID deaths from 2020.

The study says that’s likely because mitigation measures like mask mandates kept the county’s death rate lower than it could’ve been. That assumption, Kinard states, is borne of a study of Kansas counties that showed counties without mask mandates had death rates 1.8 times higher than counties with them.

Kinard adds that other successful responses to COVID-19 in the county probably played a role. That included strong collaboration between the county, health care, public health and emergency management, which allowed for a coordinated response with consistent messaging, and investigation of cases through contact tracing leading to containment of outbreaks and a slowed rate of community spread.


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