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COVID-19 reduced U.S. life expectancy, particularly among minorities

COVID-19 reduced U.S. life expectancy, particularly among minorities
Life expectancy in the United States has declined significantly in the last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis. Photo by 1662222/Pixabay

Jan. 14 (UPI) -- The COVID-19 pandemic reduced life expectancy in the United States in 2020 by more than a year, from roughly 78.5 years to 77.5 years, an analysis published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found.

Life expectancy for Black people in the United States could fall by more than two years, while it may drop by more than three years for Latino people, the data showed.

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For White people, it could fall by less than a year, according to the researchers.

The virus killed more than 336,000 people in the United States last year, due in part to higher fatality rates among Black and Latino people, compared to White people, the researchers said.

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"COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on life expectancy in the U.S.and has had an especially large impact on Black and Latino [people]," study co-author Theresa Andrasfay told UPI.

"We know that these groups are frequently employed in front-line jobs and have higher rates of some conditions that increase the risk of [death] from COVID-19," said Andrasfay, a postdoctoral fellow in the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

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Although life expectancy for Black people has historically been lower than that for White people, COVID-19 appears to have eliminated many of the gains made in closing these gaps since the early 2000s, according to the researchers.

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Latino people, who have consistently had higher life expectancy than White people, could see their more than three-year survival advantage over whites reduced to less than one year because of the virus' toll, the researchers said.

For this analysis, the researchers estimated life expectancy at birth and at age 65 for 2020 for the total U.S. population and by race and ethnicity.

They used four scenarios of deaths: one in which the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred and three others that included COVID-19 death projections.

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Of the analyzed deaths for which race and ethnicity have been reported to the National Center for Health Statistics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21% involved Black people and 22% were Latino people, the USC researchers said.

Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, while Latino people account for about 18%, based on 2010 Census data.

Because of these trends, life expectancy for White people is projected to fall to 77.8 years from 78.5, due to COVID-19, the USC researchers said.

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However, for Black people life expectancy could fall to 72.8 years from 74.9, while for Latino people it could decline to 78.8 years from 81.8, the data showed.

The gap in life expectancy between Black and White people is projected to widen by 40%, from 3.6 years to more than five years, which is evidence of the disease's disparate impact on minority populations, the researchers said.

Meanwhile, the projected impact of COVID-19 would reduce the advantage Latino people had over White people in terms of life expectancy from 3.3 years to less than one year, the lowest gap ever, the data showed.

Continued declines in life expectancy will likely persist after 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic and the virus' impact on long-term health, according to the researchers.

"Policymakers should continue prioritizing vaccinating populations who are most exposed to COVID-19 -- healthcare workers and front-line essential workers -- as well as those who are most at risk of severe disease and death," Andrasfay said.

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