Infectious Disease

COVID-19 “eliminates” latest positive aspects in US life expectancy

January 22, 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic could wipe out life expectancy, which was more than a dozen years in the US, according to researchers.

The CDC estimates that as of January 20, 2021, more than 400,300 people will have died from COVID-19 in the United States.

“An important but unanswered question concerns the impact of this extraordinary number of deaths on life expectancy for the nation as a whole, as well as the consequences for marginalized groups.” There is a Andrasfay, PhD, MA, a postdoctoral fellow at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California and Noreen Goldman, DSc, wrote a professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton University.

The researchers used birth, death, and census data to estimate changes in life expectancy in the United States in 2020. Some of their projections published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed the following:

  • Across all races and ethnic groups, life expectancy fell by 1.13 years to 77.48 years in 2020, the lowest level since 2003;
  • Across all races and ethnic groups, the life expectancy of 65-year-olds fell by 0.87 years. and
  • The life expectancy of blacks and Latinos at birth decreased by 2.1 and 3.05 years, respectively, three to four times higher than the 0.68-year decrease for whites.

Andrasfay and Goldman say that the projections suggest the black and white life expectancy gap will increase by nearly 40% from 3.6 years to more than 5 years, “eliminating” US progress in reducing that gap since 2006. The survival advantage over whites decreased from 3 years by 70% to less than 1 year.

The researchers said the impact of the estimated decline in overall life expectancy was “about ten times greater than the worrying annual declines a few years ago, largely due to overdoses, other external causes, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.”

“The US life expectancy reduction in 2020 is projected to exceed that of most other high-income countries, suggesting that the United States – which pre-pandemic had a life expectancy lower than any other high-income developed country lag – doing so will see his life expectancy drop even further behind his peers, ”wrote Andrasfay and Goldman.

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Georges C. Benjamin, MD)

Georges C. Benjamin, MD

The results of this study are not unexpected. The difference in life expectancy is pretty shocking.

There are several ways to reverse Andrasfray and Goldman’s projections. We need to fix systems that remove inequalities and improve access to care. Doctors can advocate a health system that includes everyone and that no one is left out. In the doctor’s offices, they need to ensure that patients don’t miss their appointments and that patients are getting the care – routine or preventive – that they need.

Doctors also have to do a lot of professional soul searching. We know that there is a difference in the quality of care minorities receive in clinical practice, often due to unconscious bias. We should ask ourselves questions like, “Am I biased and not giving them enough pain medication because of my views? Do I treat them differently in my practice? “Doctors with patients who are not proactive may want to ask,” Why don’t these patients show up? “They may not be comfortable in your practice. They may not understand the need to come back. Even when there is no bias, we need to find creative solutions to ensure continuous health care for all of our patients.

Georges C. Benjamin, MD

Executive Director of the American Public Health Association
Member of the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, Technology and Medicine

Disclosure: Benjamin does not report any relevant financial information.

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Leon McDougle, MD, MPH)

Leon McDougle, MD, MPH

Andrasfray and Goldman’s findings, especially when we look at the different death rates of African American and Latinx populations compared to those of Europeans in the US, are in close agreement with those of the CDC. Hence, they are not surprising. Overall, the study speaks for the overwhelming impact and breadth of effects of COVID-19 on the African American communities of the United States.

There are two immediate things this country must do to reverse these trends. First, call Defense Production Act to expedite the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) until we have adequate, overflowing, affordable (if not free) supplies of PPE for healthcare workers, other key workers, and residents of long-term care facilities. Homeless people, grocery shoppers, and everyone else in the US that I may have missed. Second, we should apply the same law to ramp up the production of diagnostic tests and point-of-care tests so that they are available nationwide no matter where you live. These strategies have not been optimized and are required to mitigate and combat COVID-19.

Leon McDougle, MD, MPH

President of the National Medical Association
Professor of Family Medicine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center

Disclosure: McDougle does not report any relevant financial information.

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