Doug Lambrecht was one of the first of the nearly 1 million Americans to die from COVID-19. Its demographic profile — an older white male with chronic health conditions — reflects the faces of many people who would be lost over the next two years.
The 71-year-old retired doctor was recovering from a fall at a nursing home near Seattle when the new coronavirus hit in early 2020. He died March 1, an early victim of a devastating outbreak that provided a first glimpse of the price of old age Americans would pay.
The pandemic has generated gigabytes of data highlighting which US groups are hardest hit. More than 700,000 people over 65 died. Men died more often than women.
Whites accounted for the bulk of deaths overall, but given the younger median ages of minority communities, blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans felt an unequal burden. Racial differences narrowed between waves, then widened with each new wave.
With 1 million deaths on the horizon, Doug’s son Nathan Lambrecht considered the toll.
“I’m afraid the bigger the numbers get, the less people care,” he said. “I just hope that people who didn’t know her and didn’t have the same kind of loss in their lives because of COVID, I just hope they don’t forget and remember to care.”
ELDERS HIT HEARD
According to US data analyzed by The Associated Press, three out of four deaths were people aged 65 and over.
About 255,000 people over 85 died; 257,000 were aged 75 to 84; and about 229,000 were 65 to 74 years old.
“A million things went wrong, and most of them were preventable,” said Charlene Harrington, an elder care expert at the University of California, San Francisco. Harrington, 80, hopes lessons from the pandemic will prompt US health officials to pass minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes “then maybe I can retire.”
LEAVE SPOUSE BEHIND
In almost every 10-year age group, more men have died from COVID-19 than women.
Men have shorter life expectancies than women, so it’s not surprising that the only age group in which female deaths exceeded male deaths is the oldest: 85 years and older.
For some families who have lost breadwinners, economic hardships have compounded their grief, said Rima Samman, who is coordinating a COVID-19 memorial project that began as a tribute to her brother Rami, who died in May 2020 at the age of 40.
“A widow loses her home or she loses the car that took her kids to school because her husband died,” Samman said. “Little by little, you’re being pulled down from the middle class to the lower class.”
RACE, ETHNICITY AND AGE
Whites accounted for 65% of all deaths, by far the largest proportion of any race.
This is not so surprising, since there are more whites in the US than any other race. Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Blacks had higher death rates when looking at COVID-19 deaths per capita.
The per capita death rates still omit a feature that is crucial to understanding which groups have been disproportionately affected — COVID-19 is deadlier for the elderly.
There are many more older whites in the US than older people of other races. To assess which breed is disproportionately affected, the per capita mortality rate must be adjusted by calculating the rates as if each breed had the same age breakdown.
After age-adjusting the proportion of COVID-19 deaths in this way, we can compare it to the proportion of race in the total population. If the age-adjusted proportion of COVID-19 deaths is higher than the proportion of the US population, that breed is disproportionately affected.
Looking at age, it is evident that Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and Native Americans suffered disproportionately more from COVID-19 deaths than other groups in the United States
Looking at deaths per capita, Mississippi had the highest rate of any state.
“We’ve lost so many people to COVID,” said Joyee Washington, community health educator in Hattiesburg. “The difficult thing in Mississippi was grieving without time to heal. You are faced with one trauma after another. … Normal is over for me.”
communities drawn together. Churches set up testing sites, school buses brought meals to students when classrooms were closed, her city’s mayor took to social media to provide reliable information. “Even in the midst of turmoil, one can still find joy, one can still find light,” she said. “The opportunities are there if you look for them.”
Native Americans experienced higher mortality rates than any other group during two waves of the pandemic. For Mary Francis, a 41-year-old Navajo woman from Page, Arizona, the death reaffirms a long-held value of self-sufficiency.
“It goes back to the teachings of our elders,” said Francis, who helps provide vaccines and care kits to Navajo and Hopi families. “Try to be self-sufficient, take care of yourself and not rely so much on the government (and) other sources that may or may not have our interests at heart.”
RURAL VS TOWN
The surge, which began in late 2020, has been particularly harsh for rural America.
Americans living in rural areas were less vaccinated than city dwellers, were more likely to be infected, and were more likely to die.
“I’ve had several people in my ambulance who are in their 80s and dying,” said paramedic Mark Kennedy in Nauvoo, Illinois. I don’t trust him.’”
Power surges swamped the meager resources of rural hospitals. During the Delta ascent, Kennedy transferred patients to hospitals in Springfield, 130 miles away, and Chicago, 270 miles away.
“Each day you had multiple transfers three and four hours away in full protective gear,” Kennedy said.
The recent Omicron surge felt even tougher for David Schreiner, CEO of Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital in Dixon, Illinois.
“In the first wave, there were signs of our healthcare heroes across the community. …People loved us the first time,” Schreiner said. But last winter, people had COVID-19 fatigue.
“Our people have been through so much. And then we would have a patient or family member who comes into the hospital and refuses to put on a mask,” Schreiner said. “It’s a little hard to take.”
AP writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed.
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https://www.local10.com/health/2022/05/06/nearly-1-million-covid-19-deaths-a-look-at-the-us-numbers/ A look at the US numbers