ELKHART — More Elkhart County residents have died in 2020 than any of the previous five years, data from the Elkhart County Health Department show.

According to the Health Department’s Vital Records office, 1,992 county residents had died this year as of Dec. 14. The highest number of deaths for any year between 2015 and 2019 was 1,887, in 2016. The average number of deaths for those years was 1,883.

Dr. Lydia Mertz, the county’s health officer, said these numbers should help people know the truth.

“We kept hearing from people that there weren’t extra deaths, that people who died from COVID were really just dying from heart attacks and things like that, and nobody in excess was dying. And that’s really not true,” Mertz said.

A total of 287 Elkhart County residents have died from COVID-19, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Through Dec. 14, the number was 285, meaning that 14.3 percent of all deaths in the county through that date were coronavirus-related. Counting only since Elkhart had its first case of COVID-19 in March, 17.2 percent of deaths were related to the virus.

Elkhart County’s higher number of deaths in 2020 follows the national trend, as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis found that 377,000 more people than normal died between March 15 and Dec. 5. According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 308,098 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. so far.

In other words, the U.S. has more excess deaths than COVID-19 deaths, and while Elkhart County also has excess deaths this year, there have not been more than the number of COVID-19 deaths.

Mertz did not know what the explanation is for the difference between the county but pointed out that most years since 2015 have been below the average, with 1,788 deaths in 2018 as the lowest point.

“There is variation from year to year,” she said.

It is impossible to know how many of the 287 county residents who died from COVID-19 would have survived this year if not for the virus, Mertz said. The Indiana State Department of Health reports that 93 percent of the Elkhart County residents who have died from COVID-19 were 60 or older.

Both nationally and in Elkhart County, the number of people who have died from COVID-19 has surged in recent months.

Locally, October became the most deadly month during the pandemic with 36 COVID-19 deaths. November quickly surpassed that and reached 92 deaths. As of Wednesday, there were 43 COVID-19 deaths in December. In recent weeks there has been a decrease in the number of new infections in the county, but the number of new infections and the positive test rate is still so high that Elkhart County’s outbreak is considered red, signifying a severe outbreak.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus

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