CLEVELAND, Ohio – The number of deaths from all causes last year in Ohio far exceeded previous years, with an increase that was well above the 9,500 that have been attributed to the coronavirus.

Preliminary data from the Ohio Department of Health through Friday shows that at least 139,072 Ohioans died in 2020, up 17,225 from the average of 121,847 over the last five years.

Going back 10 years, annual totals ranged from 108,425 deaths in 2010 to a previous high of 124,294 in 2018. In 2019, there were 123,705 deaths.

The data through Friday is marked as preliminary, in part because the manner of death for about 1,900 cases is “pending,” and because more deaths are still being added. In just three days through Friday, about 600 deaths were added to the 2020 count.

Separately, the health department – in its daily reporting of coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations – through Friday had attributed 9,560 deaths last year to coronavirus among the 10,057 COVID-19 deaths reported so far.

“It kind of makes sense. You may not see everyone who dies of coronavirus necessarily get attributed to it. I don’t think it’s intentional,” said Dr. Thomas Gilson, medical examiner for Cuyahoga County. “The natural deaths being up across the state and our area – it’s a pandemic. That’s what is going to happen in the middle of a pandemic. Tracking that stuff in real time is hard.”

The department’s mortality dataset of 113 causes of death does not specifically list COVID-19, but a health department spokeswoman said those cases and perhaps others fall under a category called “unspecified acute lower respiratory infection,” per CDC instructions. A total of 9,906 cases have been assigned this way so far for 2020, in comparison to none in 2019 and six in 2020.

Another area showing a sizable increase over the previous year was “symptoms and signs and abnormal clinical lab findings not elsewhere classified.” There were 10,395 deaths assigned this way in 2020, up from just 1,668 in 2019. COVID-19 cases should not fall under this description, the spokeswoman said.

The only category listed with more cases than either of these two categories was “all other diseases.” This total of 15,520 changed little from 2019.

As has been the case with known COVID-19 deaths, older Ohioans accounted for most of the increase in Ohio deaths last year.

In comparison to 2019, there were 4,843 additional deaths for those age 85 and older in 2020, 3,989 additional deaths for ages 75 to 84, and 3,455 more deaths for ages 65 to 74 – increases of 12% to 14% for these categories.

Among all those under the age of 65, deaths increased by 3,078, or 10%. The age group with the sharpest increase by percent was 25-34, up 18.3% with 485 more deaths than the previous year.

The 126,061 deaths attributed so far to natural causes of all kinds was an increase of 12.1%, or 13,647, over 112,414 in 2019.

The preliminary data for the year likely provides an unclear picture on suicides and deaths from unintentional injury (including drug overdoses) because so many cases are pending. It can take months to sort out deaths due to injuries or other unexpected deaths, the health department notes in a caution attached to the data.

There have been 1,531 suicides reported, down from the final figure of 1,781 in 2019. And 8,359 cases are listed as unintentional injury, down from the final 2019 number of 8,431.

However, looking at just the first eight months of the year, from which only a handful of pending cases remain, reported suicides dropped from 1,220 in 2019 to 1,118 through August of 2020. But unintentional deaths increased from 5,437 in 2019 to 6,160 last year over the same eight months.

Gilson said the same has occurred in Cuyahoga County, based on on preliminary reporting locally.

“Suicides went down, but the last two years, 2018 and 2019, they were higher than what we had been seeing,” said Gilson, who also noted that drug overdoses reported as unintentional deaths were up last year after dropping in 2019.

Rich Exner, data analysis editor for cleveland.com, writes about numbers on a variety of topics. Follow on Twitter @RichExner. See other data-related stories at cleveland.com/datacentral.

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