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Maternal deaths spiked during first year of pandemic, especially for women of color

Deaths during pregnancy and the first six weeks after childbirth increased during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, especially for Black and Hispanic women, according to a new report (Source: “Maternal Deaths Rose During the First Year of the Pandemic,” New York Times, Feb. 23).

The new National Center for Health Statistics report found that the number of maternal deaths rose 14%, to 861 in 2020 from 754 in 2019. Health officials attribute the sharp increase partly to Covid and pandemic-related disruptions.

The United States already has a much higher maternal mortality rate than other developed countries, and the increase in deaths pushes the nation’s maternal mortality rate to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020 from 20.1 deaths in 2019. Maternal mortality rates in developed countries have in recent years ranged from fewer than two deaths per 100,000 live births in Norway and New Zealand to just below nine deaths per 100,000 live births in France and Canada.

Black women in America experienced the most deaths: One-third of the pregnant women and new mothers who died in 2020 were Black, though Black Americans make up just over 13%nof the population. Their mortality rate was nearly three times that of white women. The mortality rate for Hispanic women, which has historically been lower than for white women, also increased significantly in 2020 and is now almost on par with the rate for white women.