A study published Monday confirms that the pandemic hit Black Americans, Native Americans and Latinos far harder than Whites early on, killing greater proportions of these groups.
People from these groups were more likely to die from all causes – Covid-19 and others – than were Whites and Asians, the National Cancer Institute-led team said.
“An estimated 2.88 million deaths occurred between March and December 2020. Compared with the number of expected deaths based on 2019 data, 477,200 excess deaths occurred during this period, with 74% attributed to COVID-19,” they wrote in their report, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“Age-standardized excess deaths per 100,000 persons among Black, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN), and Latino males and females were more than double those in White and Asian males and females. Non–COVID-19 excess deaths also disproportionately affected Black, AI/AN, and Latino persons,” they added.
“Compared with White males and females, non-COVID-19 excess deaths per 100,000 persons were 2 to 4 times higher in Black, AI/AN, and Latino males and females, including deaths due to diabetes, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), and Alzheimer disease. Excess deaths in 2020 resulted in substantial widening of racial/ethnic disparities in all-cause mortality from 2019 to 2020.”
The team used death certificate data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Census Bureau population estimates to compare excess deaths by race, ethnicity, sex, age group, and cause of death from March to December 2020 with data for the same months in 2019.
“Focusing on COVID-19 deaths alone without examining total excess deaths — that is, deaths due to non-COVID-19 causes as well as to COVID-19 — may underestimate the true impact of the pandemic,” Meredith Shiels, senior investigator in the Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch at NCI, who led the study, said in a statement.
“These data highlight the profound impact of long-standing inequities.”
When they looked at excess deaths not caused by Covid-19, the team found excess deaths by population were three to four times higher among Black and American Indian/Alaska Native men and women compared with White men and women. Latinos had nearly two times the number of excess non-Covid-19 deaths as Whites.
“It is possible that fear of seeking out health care during the pandemic or misattribution of causes of death from COVID-19 are responsible for a majority of the excess non-COVID-19 deaths,” Shiels said.
“The United States has seen profound racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths since the beginning of the pandemic,” the team wrote.
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“The steady progress over the past 20 years in decreasing the mortality gap between Black and White persons has been rapidly eliminated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is likely to worsen as the full effect of the pandemic becomes apparent.”