Deaths in Alaska shot up in 2021, and it wasn’t just from Covid-19. People died in greater numbers of heart disease, accidents, chronic liver disease — including cirrhosis — and more, according to a new state report.
Children died at lower rates in 2021 than was predicted by modeling, but the number of deaths of people ages 15 and older was higher in 2021 than in 2020 and more than expected, according to the report.
“Although more elderly Alaskans tend to die from Covid-19, the pandemic increased premature deaths among non-elderly adults as well,” reads the 2020-2021 Excess Death Report by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Cancer remains the No. 1 cause of death in Alaska followed by heart disease, Covid-19, accidental injuries and stroke. More people died of all those causes last year than in 2020.
Of the 6,194 people who died last year, 1,421 are considered “excess deaths,” or more deaths than expected, a 178% increase from 2020, which saw 512 excess deaths.
Covid-19 played a verifiable role in about 57% of Alaska’s excess deaths in recent years, according to the report.
“The remaining excess in mortality observed is a product of several factors,” the report states. “This includes the secondary effects that Covid-19 and the pandemic has had on other causes of death, such as mortality resulting from a strained medical system during the pandemic or a decrease in preventive care measures.”
One of the biggest causes of death — death from unintentional injuries — rose from 465 observed deaths in 2020 to 570 observed deaths in 2021.
“Accidental drug poisonings (overdoses) are one of the largest contributors to unintentional injury mortality. There were 242 accidental drug overdoses observed in 2021, 119 more deaths than expected,” according to the report.
The number of deaths by lower respiratory illness, suicide and diabetes also went up. Deaths by suicide in Alaska rose to 218 last year compared with 204 in 2020.
Alaskans ages 55 and older experienced the biggest increase in deaths last year, with the age group 65-74 hit hardest at 301 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020.
For younger adults, those in the age group 45-54, the number of observed deaths jumped by 119 between 2020 and 2021. In the age group 35-44, the number of observed deaths rose by 88. In the age group 25-34, the number of observed deaths rose by 64 last year compared with 2020.
Children ages 5-14 experienced fewer observed deaths, with 10 in 2021 and 35 in 2020.
Under age 4, 61 children died in Alaska of all causes in 2020 and 81 in 2021.
Finally, in the age group 15-24, the number of deaths was 132 in 2020 and 143 last year.
Alaska Native people suffered the biggest increase in unexpected deaths last year.
“American Indian/Alaska Native people experienced 188 more deaths than expected, or 147.4 excess deaths per 100,000 population, the highest excess death rate by race,” the report reads.
The excess death rate for men is about twice as high as for women.
In Interior Alaska, 679 people died of all causes in 2020. In 2021, the number was 839, with 212 considered excess deaths. The report shows that the Matanuska-Susitna Borough had 995 deaths last year, including 319 excess deaths.
Alaska’s deadliest month since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic was October of 2021. In that month, 741 people died, which is 324 more deaths than expected.
“The 2021 peak corresponds to the spread of the highly infectious SARS-COV-2 Delta variant, which was common at the time,” the report reads.