On Covid, Excess Mortality by Race/Ethnicity, and Geographic Patterns

It doesn't take a map to know where it's cold

Sorry for the long delay between video and blog post, but I’ve finally gotten around to it.

Because NYT columnist Charles Blow has just noticed a pattern:

In my response (and frankly, I shouldn’t have responded, as I was Nyquiled up, and feeling pretty ill), I noted:

We have had multiple Covid waves. I generally look at deaths, but people have switched over to “cases” as that has higher amplitudes now that Covid deaths are more muted.

But I will continue to look at deaths.

Video on excess deaths by race/ethnicity

I did this video with data through September 2021:

A commercial message

For a little levity, here I am hawking furniture with my sister and a friend.

I’m Lifetime Guarantee. Funny how that works out.

(of course, it didn’t exactly work out for my sister, who is an accountant, and my friend, who is a teacher. Oh well, they can’t get all the guarantees right.)

Back to death and racial differences

For the following, I will be pointing out percentage increases in mortality by racial/ethnic groups, and there will be some stark differences. Spreadsheet with data and graphs can be found here: [Embedding files is a new feature to substack — please let me know if this didn’t work - marypat.campbell@gmail.com]

Excess Mortality By Race Ethnicity And Week With Covid Us Only
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All the data came from the CDC, and are through the end of September 2021.

Let’s do the big view — how much did deaths increase compared to the 2015-2019 averages? Here, I’m looking at 2020-2021 total deaths through the week ending 10/2/2021.

A few comments here:

You’ll see the whole population had an increase of about 20%, but Hispanics had an increase of 60%, Asians about 40%, Blacks about 35% — and Whites about 15%.

People forget two huge items about the U.S. population:

- Whites are still the largest racial/ethnic group
- Most importantly for mortality stats… they’re the oldest group.

That is, whites are the majority of the dying in the U.S., pandemic or no pandemic.

Even with large increases relative to their “usual” amounts of deaths, there are far fewer Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians to die to begin with. Of the almost 6 million Americans who have died from 2020 through 10/2/2021, 4.4 million of them have been white. That is, 73% of those who died were white.

From 2015-2019, 77% of those who died were white. So the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on minorities just ate into the white majority in death by 4 percentage points.

Covid’s share of the excess

Above, we were looking at the total increase in deaths. To be sure, some of that increase may have come from growth in the underlying population/aging in that underlying population. Ultimately, we won’t have to compare against a 2015-2019 count average, but a more detailed age-range mortality info for the groups.

But until then, let us start carving out this “excess” over 2015-2019 averages by seeing how much of this was due to Covid:

Unsurprisingly to me, most of the excess mortality for whites is Covid, as most of the excess mortality we’ve seen there is among old people.

Also unsurprising to me, Covid forms a huge component of the Hispanic excess mortality.

Let’s check out the pattern of Covid deaths by race since 2020:

Again, you see that there’s loads of white people to die. But there’s something I want you to see in these waves of excess mortality: in the summer of 2020, there’s a wave that hits Hispanics hard, that doesn’t hit Blacks or whites as hard.

Let me graph this info in a different way.

Weekly excess deaths by race

So let’s go back to ignoring Covid again, but keeping in mind that these waves of death are driven by Covid. There are other causes of death driving excess mortality I will address in upcoming posts (namely, homicide and drug overdoses), but those don’t come and go in waves… or, rather, not in the same sort of rapid patterns as Covid has.

And now you can see it — the blue curve for Hispanics has a summer 2020 peak much higher than that for whites, Blacks, and Asians.

I want to note the high peak for Asian deaths in winter 2020-2021.

See that there is a high spike for Asian, Hispanic, and Black in that first NYC-centered wave that we’ve known so well… but a little blip for White. And I want you to think about that a little. Because that really explains a lot of the disproportionate effects on minorities in the U.S. and it goes back to Charles Blow’s question at the top of this post.

The answer to all of this being geographic distribution.

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Geographical distribution of population by race/ethnicity

The racial dot map uses 2010 census data right now (and I see they’re threatening to take it down because oooooh, woe, it’s out of date! Give us money!) While I know about some key differences between 2010 and 2020 populations, a lot of the racial distributions are going to be similar between the two.

I’ve made a few snapshots so that you can see what it looks like. (Yes, they’ve even got Hawaii and Alaska, but they look like dust, for obvious reasons, so I’m not including them.)

Big snap:

Rather than extend this post longer – as I will do a deeper dive into particular locations later – let me give you the short story version: [very simplified]

- white people are everywhere
- Black people are throughout the southeast in both rural & urban areas; outside the SE, they’re generally in northern urban areas
- Hispanics abound along the southern border/California, have major concentrations in cities going up the east coast
- Asians tend to be along both coasts, in the cities – all along the West Coast, and then the Acela Corridor (oooh, bad news there)

Covid has been really bad for those living in crowded urban areas, where you’re breathing each other’s air, especially in mass transit.

Here’s what I call the Acela Corridor:

Well, NYC was the epicenter of our troubles, and it spread out from there.

Look at all those green (Black), red (Asian), and orange (Hispanic) dots crowded around NYC and surrounding I-95/Amtrak.

That’s where that initial mortality spike in those groups came from.

Sure, there are plenty of white people around the NYC/NJ area as well, but there are loads of them outside that area, too. The issue is that you have a lot of clustering of specific communities in specific geographic areas, so if those areas are hit — boom — then those communities are going to be hit, too.

People have been making a big deal about urban living being the wave of the future, in small spaces, zipping around in mass transit powered by renewable energy, yadda yadda, but after 18 months of cramped living with not much outside life, with a heightened risk profile because of said mass transit, one is reminded that plagues and diseases generally have arisen out of urban living. It takes a certain level of human density to really get a good pandemic going.

So coming full circle, I do recommend people learning a bit of geography and metereology. Even in an electronic age, these still have effects on our patterns of living (do you know why we’re all cramped up on the coasts, for example?)

And, as I’ve been enjoying sub-freezing mornings of late,and finally having my sinuses clear, I remember why I keep wanting to move farther and farther north… and that while that cuts down on my chances of mosquito-borne diseases, I have other types of diseases more likely in turn.

Just think about it.

Related: U.S. COVID Mortality: Winter is Coming