Between the nearly 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, along with a rise in drug overdoses, heart attacks and other diseases, life expectancy fell to its lowest level since 2006

By Julie Mazziotta
February 18, 2021 11:56 AM
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EMTs in Los Angeles treat a COVID-19 patient
| Credit: APU GOMES/AFP via Getty

Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by a full year in the first half of 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control.

Between the nearly 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, along with a rise in drug overdoses, heart attacks and deaths from cancer and other diseases during the pandemic, life expectancy for the general U.S. population declined to 77.8 years, a level last seen in 2006.

The full-year regression is the most dramatic decline since World War II.

And much like COVID-19 itself, Black and non-white Hispanics were most impacted by the drop in life expectancy. Between 2019 and the first half of 2020, life expectancy for Black people declined by 2.7 years, from 74.7 to 72. For non-white Hispanic people, they lost 1.9 years in life expectancy, from 81.8 to 79.9. White people saw the smallest decline, 0.8 years, from 78.8 to 78 years.

"This is a huge decline," Dr. Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the CDC, told NBC News. "You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this."

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People of color, who are less likely to have access to good health care and more likely to have preexisting conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness, have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and died at higher rates than white Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black, Hispanic and Native American people are around four times more likely than others to be hospitalized with the virus.

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"At the beginning of the pandemic, we may have thought this was a virus that affected everyone equally," Theresa Andrasfay, a researcher at the University of Southern California, told CNN. "We were aware of these longstanding health disparities, but this really drives home how the Black and Latino communities were disproportionately affected."

The CDC report is based on preliminary data on U.S. deaths between January and July of 2020, and "do not reflect the entirety of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, or other changes in causes of death." And with the number of COVID-19 deaths increasing significantly in the second half of 2020, the U.S. life expectancy may now be at lower levels.

However, after experiencing the deadliest month of the entire pandemic in January, the death rate is now going down as new infections decline. Over the last two weeks, deaths have gone down by 34%, according to The New York Times.

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