Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama's chief health officer, recently asked his staff to pore over state mortality records, and his crew came back to him with two sobering numbers. In 2020, for the first time since the early 1900s, Alabama had more deaths than births, Harris announced Wednesday at a COVID town hall, per AL.com. But the bleak stats don't end there: Last year saw the most deaths ever in the state, with "around [6,000] or 7,000 more people who died ... this past year than any year we have ever had," according to Harris. "Our state literally shrunk in 2020," he added at a Friday presser, reports the New York Times.
Harris noted at the town hall that the shrinkage aligns neatly with one other number in particular. "It's not a coincidence that that's about exactly the number of deaths we had from COVID," he said, per AL.com. Harris said at the Friday news conference that there were 57,641 births and 64,714 deaths—about 7,000 more deaths than births—in the state in 2020; his state's Department of Public Health says there were about 7,200 deaths from COVID last year. Harris noted there hadn't ever been that large of a gap between births and deaths—not even during either of the world wars or in the 1918 pandemic.
Alabama isn't alone on this path: The Times cites a University of New Hampshire study that found 25 states had more deaths than births in 2020; in 2019, only five states saw that happen. Some 5,600 or so COVID deaths have been recorded in Alabama so far this year—and at least one expert is shaking his head at those numbers. "The tragedy of 2021 is that the majority of those deaths were totally preventable," Dr. Michael Saag, a University of Alabama at Birmingham infectious diseases professor, said at the town hall. "We didn't have a vaccine in 2020. We do have a vaccine now." Harris says about half of all eligible Alabamians have been fully vaccinated, per Alabama News Network. (Read more Alabama stories.)