CASPER – Wyoming recorded significantly more deaths in 2020 than in the prior year, new figures from the Wyoming Department of Health show.

The state documented 5,983 deaths last year – an increase of 862, or 16%, compared with the year prior. While increases do occur from year to year, this year’s was notably larger, a health department official noted in a statement released Friday.

“Our data has shown steady, small increases in deaths for several years largely due to our state’s aging population,” said Guy Beaudoin, the Vital Statistics Services deputy state registrar with the health department. “But before the COVID-19 pandemic hit we never would have predicted the large jump we saw in 2020.”

COVID-19 was a clear driver of the increase.

The health department said the deaths of 528 Wyoming residents were tied to the virus last year. The coronavirus was the third-leading cause of death among Wyomingites in 2020 after heart disease and cancer.

Three months into the new year the virus impact has fallen as the number of people vaccinated in Park County continues to climb and the number of people who have the coronavirus continues to fall. After a brief spike to 19 cases in mid-March, the latest update from Park County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin shows just nine COVID cases as of March 26.

There is only one county resident hospitalized for the virus and less than 1% of residents in Cody are shedding the virus in wastewater.

By the end of 2020, the department had reported 438 deaths caused by COVID-19 – 90 fewer than the number announced Friday.

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