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California Reports 20% More Deaths Than Three Years Ago

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The "Hollywood" sign can be seen from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
(David McNew
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California's death rate has increased by 20% since 2020, according to the state's public health department.

Some of the deaths — known as “excess deaths,” as they fall outside the state’s projected mortality rate — are due to complications caused directly by COVID-19, but others are due to the strain the virus put on society and the health care system at large.

Still more are unrelated.

Speaking to our newsroom’s AirTalk program, Bernadette Boden-Albala, a professor of public health at UC Irvine, said that there are a number of reasons for the increase: fewer health care workers, a decrease in preventive care, people seeking treatment for chronic illnesses later than they may have otherwise, and the side effects of social isolation.

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“When people are isolated, like they were in shelter-in-place, they run the risk of greater death around cardiovascular disease and stroke,” said Boden-Albala. “People were not seeing other people, people lost family members, and all of that depression and loss can lead to maladaptive behaviors including increased alcohol, increased drug use and behaviors like not seeking health providers when they need them or even for prevention.”

The pandemic also put a strain on the health care system, limiting access for non-COVID patients – which delayed check-ups and discovery of chronic diseases.

“Telemedicine was really a good thing, it was better than nothing, but a lot of people … didn't seek access, and there were limitations about what people could do over telemed,” said Boden-Albala. “We lost a lot of health care workers. There was great burnout and that probably led to some reduced services and also the lack of preventative services.”

Boden-Albala is hopeful the state’s mortality rate will normalize with preventative health screenings resuming, along with ongoing telehealth access.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

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