MINOT, N.D. — As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged our society a vocal faction — many of them the same folks who treated the application of a cheap, lightweight mask to their faces amid the outbreak of an airborne contagion like it was some major affront to individual liberty — insisted that the virus was no more serious than the flu.

We're now getting some evidence to show just how wrong they are.

"It's just the flu," they told us.

Yet according to preliminary data released by the North Dakota Division of Vital Records, the number of deaths in our state in 2020 jumped more than 20% from 2019.

There were 7,937 deaths last year, compared to 6,611 in 2019 and 6,343 in 2018.

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For context, consider that the jump from 2018 to 2019 was less than 5%.

People die for a lot of reasons, but in 2020 one of the primary reasons was the coronavirus. On the list of causes of death for North Dakotans last year, coronavirus ranked third, based on data that I'll admit again is provisional, coming in behind only heart disease and cancer.

But "it's just the flu" they told us.

North Dakota had a tough go of it, for a while, during the pandemic. Many sneered at calls for masking. Others raised holy hell about social distancing policies and restrictions on gatherings in public spaces, including businesses.

"It's just the flu," they told us.

North Dakota paid dearly for that obstinance. At times during the pandemic, our COVID-19 mortality rate has been among the highest in the world. Still, our state is hardly the only place where COVID-19 took a heavy toll.

The life expectancy of Americans — people who live in one of the most prosperous societies humanity has ever seen — lost a full year of statistical life expectancy in 2020.

"The coronavirus pandemic drove life expectancy in the U.S. to its lowest level since 2006, according to new preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Axios reports.

It's not just deaths from the virus that's driving these ugly numbers. The CDC, in a separate report, also noted that drug overdoses spiked 21 percent last year, a trend that undoubtedly has its roots in Americans making the unfortunate decision to seek escape from the ravages of the pandemic in substance abuse.

Again, these are early numbers, but don't hope for the picture they paint to get any less bleak. We don't have any concrete data on pandemic suicides yet — that cause of death is tricky to quantify even in the best of times — but expect a spike.

Because how could there not be a spike?

But "it's just the flu," they told us, so they could justify eschewing some trivial inconveniences like wearing a mask.

They were deadly wrong.

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com.