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COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death last year in St. Louis County

More than 1,000 people in the bi-state St. Louis region and nearly that many across Missouri have died of COVID-19 as of this week. 061920
Kristen Radtke for NPR
A St. Louis County report shows COVID 19 was the third-leading cause of death for residents last year, behind only heart disease and cancer.

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death for St. Louis County residents last year, according to a report by county health officials.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health report shows the virus killed more than 1,300 residents, making up about 11% of all county deaths in 2020. Only heart disease and cancer killed more people during the coronavirus pandemic. Health officials also reported that life expectancy for county residents declined by 2.3 years.

The report also noted the significant health disparities between Black and white residents, with Black residents 2.4 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white residents.

“The association between adverse health outcomes and socio-economic status has been well documented over the years,” County Executive Sam Page said during a press conference Monday. “That association was seen during this pandemic as well with those living in poverty having the highest mortality rates.”

The report notes that north St. Louis County had the highest COVID-19 mortality rates.

County Council Chairwoman Rita Days said the county must better serve African Americans and others who have more than one health condition.

“These disparities are not new, we have had major health disparities in the African American community for years and years and years,” Days said. “COVID has exacerbated the situation, and because we have so many comorbidity issues, it has affected our community disproportionately.”

The report comes as Days and Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, both Democrats, are proposing a bill that would allocate at least $50 million in federal coronavirus aid to a north St. Louis County health and wellness program. The money would fund health care services and mobile health units in north St. Louis County.

“I think we have to meet people where they are,” Days said. “I think the other thing too is that everyone should have a health care home, hopefully with the Medicaid expansion, people will have more of an opportunity where you can have a health care home where you can have someone you can trust with your health care decisions.”

Addressing health disparities between Black and white residents in the county will take local, state and federal efforts, Deputy Health Director Spring Schmidt said.

“We still will be talking about additional investments that will be necessary from other community partners,” Schmidt said. “From hospital systems, from federal and state sources, as well as a concerted effort to address other social determinants like employment, like racism, like the opportunities that are available for insurance or people who are underinsured, we need to talk about housing and transportation and all of those other things combined.”

Schmidt said while she doesn’t believe the number of COVID-19 deaths in 2021 will be as high as last year's due to the availability of the COVID-19 vaccines, masking and better preventative care, she said the data show the severity of the virus.

“We are talking about something that is so serious that we are losing people at this really increased rate, and it’s preventable,” Schmidt said.

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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