The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has reached a somber milestone: As of Wednesday afternoon, the highly infectious viral disease has taken more than 100,000 lives nationwide.
Soaring from two known coronavirus fatalities in February to more than 58,000 in April, the tally of U.S. deaths — in a country with fewer than 5% of the world’s inhabitants — now accounts for nearly one-third of all the known lives lost worldwide to the pandemic.
According to a mortality analysis by Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, about 6% of the nearly 1.7 million people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the U.S. have succumbed to the disease.
Public health experts said the coronavirus has exposed the vulnerability of a wide range of Americans and the shortcomings of a U.S. health care system faced with a deadly pandemic.
“What is different about this is, it is affecting all of us in a variety of ways, even if some of us are able to social distance in more effective ways than others,” said sociology professor Kathleen Cagney, who directs the University of Chicago’s Population Research Center. “But we all feel at risk.”
Even some who are well-acquainted with earlier health scourges in the U.S. were caught off guard by this one.
“I think anybody who understands anything about infectious disease recognizes that we were going to sooner or later face something like this,” said John Barry, a professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, on NPR’s Fresh Air earlier this month. “But, you know, intellectually understanding it is one thing, and having it hit you is something quite different.”
Demographic disparities in deaths
People have died from the disease in all 50 states and most U.S. territories. But the impact has been felt unevenly. Demographic statistics that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted of the first nearly 69,000 fatalities show some striking disparities:
— The disease has been far deadlier for males than females. For age groups up to 75 years old, about twice as many men and boys have been killed by COVID-19 as have women and girls.
— Older people have died in much greater numbers than those who are younger. Eighty percent of the known fatalities were at least 65.
— Racial and ethnic disparities in who is dying have also become apparent, even while tracking data that Johns Hopkins has compiled remain incomplete.
In Alabama, for example, 44% of those killed by COVID-19 were black in a state where fewer than 27% of its residents are African American. Similarly, while African Americans make up 14% of Michigan’s population, they account for 40% of that state’s COVID-19 fatalities.