Image by Image via Pixabay

The coronavirus is becoming the leading cause of death in the United States now that daily death tolls are surpassing those of other leading killers.

On Wednesday, COVID-19 killed more than 3,400 people in the country, which is higher than the number of deaths from heart disease (1,700) and cancer (1,600) combined, according to a WebMD report. Scientists from Virginia Commonwealth University have been tracking the leading causes of death compared to the coronavirus and in their research, published Thursday in the journal JAMA, they say that we are well on our way to an unfathomable national calamity.

"The current exponential increase in COVID is reaching a calamitous scale in the U.S.," reads the research. "Putting these numbers in perspective may be difficult."

For American adults, heart disease and cancer have long been the two most common causes of death. But that's changed in recent months. As of October, COVID surpassed cancer as a leading cause of death for adults over 85, and is closely trailing heart disease. Similar shifts are occurring for younger demographics as well, especially with the more recent record-breaking death tolls and hospitalizations.

"The year 2020 ends with COVID-19 massively surging, as it was in the spring, to be the leading cause of death," the study authors wrote. "The accelerating numbers of deaths fall far short of fully capturing each devastating human story: Every death represents untold loss for countless families."

Coronavirus vaccines are already being distributed, offering hope that we may soon turn the tide against the pandemic. But a vaccine alone won't save us, the scientists argue, especially as we head into the winter and cases continue to climb.

"Ending this crisis will require not only further advances in treatment but also unprecedented commitment to all aspects of prevention, vaccination, and public health," the authors wrote. "Only by doing so can future years see this illness revert back to the unfamiliar and unknown condition it once was."