Arizona is the only state nationwide in which COVID-19 has been the leading cause of death during the pandemic, according to a new report Wednesday from the Arizona Public Health Association.
Nationally, COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death, with cancer and heart disease in the first two spots.
There are five states in which COVID-19 is the second leading cause of death, or in which there was a tie for second: Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Texas, says the report, which examined data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 40 states. In four states, it was lower than the third leading cause: Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont.
Other states that might have competed with Arizona for the top COVID spot on the list have higher rates of heart disease brought on by other statewide health issues, such as obesity or lax smoking policies, said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, an advocacy group.
In Arizona, “we have horrible decisions made around COVID-19 coupled with long-term tobacco control,” said Humble, referring to the Smoke-Free Arizona Act in 2006.
Humble is a vocal critic of the pandemic mitigation strategies led by Gov. Doug Ducey and the state health department.
His criticisms, which he outlined in an October guest opinion column in the Arizona Daily Star, include wanting Ducey to give cities and counties the authority to enact and enforce mask measures; to stop “micromanaging” universities’ and community colleges’ COVID protocols; and to “have a reasonable student code of conduct that requires unvaccinated students to get tested weekly.”
Humble, a former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, also wants Ducey to allow greater autonomy to local school boards.
A Ducey spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s report.
Steve Elliott, communications director for the Arizona Department of Health Services, said he was unable to quickly review the new report’s methodology and then comment on its findings.
But he noted that ADHS has “consistently recommended that Arizonans use masks, distancing and other mitigation measures to protect themselves from COVID-19, as per CDC guidance.”
“Arizona enacted strong measures involving high-risk businesses such as gyms, bars, movie theaters and water parks. Bars that couldn’t operate as dine-in restaurants had to remain closed until conditions warranted lifting those restrictions,” he wrote in an email in response to questions about the report.
“Masks and occupancy restrictions were some of the mitigation measures required for these high-risk establishments, with ADHS maintaining a complaint and inspection system to follow-up on reports of noncompliance,” Elliott said.
He said state-run vaccination sites have administered 1.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Arizona residents.
Humble, a public-health practitioner, teamed with Allan N. Williams, a retired researcher with the Minnesota Department of Health and an assistant professor with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, on Wednesday’s report.
Their research included using CDC databases to obtain the number of deaths and the crude death rates for the two leading causes of death in 2019, which were heart disease and cancer for each state and the country overall.
The COVID-19 death rates through Oct. 29 were then compared to heart disease and cancer rates from 2019.
The new findings follow another report released three weeks ago by the Arizona Public Health Association. In the previous report, Arizona data was compared to findings from Washington state and Colorado, two states with similar populations but differing mitigation approaches, Humble said.
Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 806-7754 or