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U.S. life expectancy drops 1.5 years in 2020 due to pandemic

January 31, 2020
National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar (L) announced that the United States is declaring the virus a public health emergency and issued a federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

July 21 (UPI) -- Life expectancy in the United States declined by a year and a half during 2020 due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday in a new report, marking the steepest decline since the second world war.

According to the report, Americans as a whole saw their life expectancy from birth shorten from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020, the largest decline since 2.9 years were lost between 1942 and 1943.

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"The decline of 1.5 years in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 was primarily due to increases in mortality due to COVID-19," the report said, stating the pandemic contributed to 73.8% of the decline, followed by unintentional injuries at 11.2% and homicide at 3.1%.

The life expectancy for men dropped 1.8 years, from 76.3 years in 2019 to 74.5 years in 2020, while women went from 81.4 years in 2019 to 80.2 years in 2020 for a loss of 1.2 years. Between the sexes, the age divide widened to a gap of 5.7 years compared to 5.1 years a year prior.

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However, minority communities in the United States saw the steepest decline in 2020, with the Hispanic community experiencing the largest loss of 3 years, from 81.8 years to 78.8, followed by the non-Hispanic Black community at 2.9 years, from 74.7 years to 71.8.

The report blamed the pandemic for 90% of the decline among the Hispanic community, with COVID-19 representing nearly 60% of the decline among the non-Hispanic Black community.

Meanwhile, the non-Hispanic White population saw the smallest decline, of 1.2 years, from 78.8 years to 77.6, with nearly 68% of the decline attributable to the pandemic.

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"Mortality due to COVID-19 had, by far, the single greatest effect on the decline in life expectancy at birth between 2019 and 2020, overall, among men and women and for the three race and Hispanic-origin groups," the report said.

The pandemic -- which began in late 2019 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading the world over -- has killed more than 609,500 Americans and sickened more than 34.1 million, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University.

The decline would have been greater, the report said, if not for decreases in deaths attributed to cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease and suicide, among others.

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The report was published about a month after a new study found that life expectancy in the United States was declining 8.5 times faster than the average of similar countries.

The CDC report published Wednesday highlights the pandemic's disproportionate effect on racial and ethnic communities, which health officials have been pointing out since the early days of the outbreak in the United States.

In April of last year, only a month after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, U.S. health officials warned that African Americans were suffering a greater impact from the coronavirus.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator under the previous Trump administration, said it wasn't that the Black community was more susceptible to the virus, only that data suggest they are more susceptible to severe disease and poor outcomes, such as death.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, explained that the pandemic was exacerbating a "health disparity" that already existed in the United States with Black Americans suffering disproportionally due to underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension.

In August of last year, a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated that COVID-19 would need to kill an additional 1 million White Americans for their average life expectancy to fall to levels seen by Black Americans during non-pandemic years.

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In April, the CDC said the pandemic has "brought social and racial inequity to the forefront of public health" as it has highlighted "that health equity is still not a reality."

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