Two years of the coronavirus pandemic, in the charts
The coronavirus pandemic is now entering its third year, a grim milestone that calls for another look at the human toll of COVID-19 and the shaky progress in containing it.
The charts below tell various aspects of the story, from the deadly force of the disease and its disparate impact, to signs of political polarization and America’s struggle to mobilize an effective response.
COVID-19 has exploded the list of top killers in the United States like nothing in recent memory. The closest analog was HIV and AIDS, which ranked in the top 10 between 1990 and 1996. But even HIV/AIDS never rose above eighth place on this list.
In contrast, COVID-19 climbed to third place in 2020, its first year of existence, and that only included about nine months of the pandemic. Only heart disease and cancer killed more Americans that year.
“The leading causes of death are relatively stable over long periods of time, so this is a very striking result,” said William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University.
COVID-19 generally hits people of color the hardest, a trend that experts trace to historical disparities in income, geography, medical access and educational attainment.
“It tells us something about our society – it’s kind of a newsletter,” Schaffner said. Studies have shown that disease and prevention are even more strongly correlated with level of education than with income.
“There have been efforts to correct the disparities,” said Arthur L. Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “But these were just band-aids on a system that remains broken.”
Older people tend to be more susceptible to disease than younger people, due to weaker immune systems and underlying health conditions. This has been especially true for COVID-19.
“Many other infections affect the very young and the very old disproportionately, but COVID-19 stands out for its age dependency,” said Monica Gandhi, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. . “Children have been remarkably spared from serious illness in the United States, as they were around the world.”
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Deaths among older Americans, however, were particularly prevalent early in the pandemic due to close contact with older people living in nursing homes.
“Some would say old people are frail anyway, but I find that morally repugnant,” Caplan said. The death of so many elderly people “makes me extremely sad”.
The good news, experts say, is that older Americans were the most likely to get vaccinated, with a 91% complete vaccination rate for people aged 65 to 74. This almost certainly prevented many deaths among the elderly as the pandemic progressed, Schaffner mentioned.
While the pandemic has had its ups and downs, due to largely seasonal factors and the emergence of new variants, it has continued to produce deaths at a fairly steady rate since its onset two years ago.
The pandemic is “awesome in the way it is continuing,” Schaffner said.
The slow grind is “why we’re exhausted,” Caplan said. “It’s like we can’t make a meaningful dent no matter what we do.”
There were five distinct peaks: the first in April 2020, a summer peak in August 2020, a winter peak in January 2021, the initial delta variant outbreak in September 2021, and the omicron surge in January 2022.
The on-and-off nature of the pandemic “has led to a lot of confusion and grumpiness,” Schaffner said. Caplan compared it to the exhaustion of the American public when they heard the death toll during the Vietnam War.
Once a natural disaster like a hurricane or tornado passes, Schaffner added, it’s gone and people can rebuild. With COVID-19, it’s only a matter of time before the next wave arrives. The coronavirus has also affected the whole world, unlike a localized disaster.
These factors “have stretched the capacity of the public health system and our governance,” Schaffner said.
Not surprisingly, the number of deaths in each state depended heavily on the size of the state’s population. California and Texas have each lost more than 80,000 people to COVID-19, while Vermont has lost 546.
But once you adjust to the population, there are distinct differences in how different states have fared during the pandemic.
The seven states with the worst death rates include densely populated New Jersey, a wealthy and educated northeastern state, and Arizona, a fairly diverse southwestern state. The other five are Southern states that rank among the 11 states with the lowest levels of education and median income: Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
As for the states with the lowest death rates, Hawaii and Alaska (and to some extent Vermont and Maine) are isolated and may have had an easier time keeping the virus out.
“Despite all the grumbling you hear about federal mandates and their enforcement, you can’t help but look at this list and see that the pandemic has been managed state by state,” Caplan said.
The global performance in the fight against COVID-19 is analogous to that of the United States: some places have done well, and others have not.
And in the international context, the record of the United States was not so hot.
When comparing death rates around the world, it is clear how much worse the United States has done than other wealthy industrialized nations.
The countries that have a higher death rate than the United States are largely middle-sized and middle-income. Western industrialized nations that are the United States’ closest peers have all managed to do better, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Canada.
Meanwhile, other rich countries have done much better than the United States, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan (which have more experience with airborne disease and greater public tolerance for masking) , and two island nations: Australia and New Zealand.
In general, Schaffner said, countries that have performed better than the United States tend to have “sustained, single-source, science-based communication. They communicated well with their people and explained and justified why they were doing what they were doing.
It is impossible to examine the US response to COVID-19 without considering the extent to which it has become politicized. Almost from the start, grassroots communications about the severity of the disease and how to combat its spread crumbled along partisan lines. The way Americans reacted also followed a partisan pattern.
Most of the states that voted for Joe Biden for president in 2020 had above-average vaccination rates. Most states that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 had lower than average rates.
Among the outliers in this model were Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Georgia, which supported Biden but had below-average vaccination rates. All four had very tight races in 2020; and Trump won three in 2016. The outliers on the other side were Florida and Utah, which supported Trump but had above-average vaccination rates.
Efforts to promote vaccination as advancing the common good “have been rebuffed by arguments about autonomy and individual liberty,” Caplan said.
The rejection of vaccines by many Americans has also contributed to lower vaccination rates in the United States compared to other countries.
The U.S. full immunization rate of just under 66% was higher than the global average of about 54%, but not particularly impressive given the wealth of the United States and the fact that it produced in first place for many key vaccines. Essentially, every other high-income country vaccinated a higher share of their residents than the United States.
The fact that the United States has both a lower full immunization rate and a higher death rate than other high-income countries “makes me wonder how we could have done as a country if our response to the pandemic had not been so politicized and polarized”. said Brooke Nichols, a mathematical modeler of infectious diseases at Boston University.
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How to get tested
Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find free, public COVID-19 testing sites in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.
Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.
United States: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.
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How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and older and boosters for eligible recipients are being administered at doctor’s offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow you to book appointments online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Immunization Hotline.
Call: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish, and other languages.
Disability Access and Information Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email [email protected]
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OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron has changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest on how the infectious variant of COVID-19 is affecting masks, vaccines, recalls and quarantine.
CHILDREN AND VACCINES: Do you have questions about your child’s vaccination? Here are some answers.
REMINDER SHOTS: Not sure which COVID reminder to get? This guide will help you.
APPEAL QUESTIONS: Are there any side effects? Why do I need it? Here are the answers to your questions.
PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how older people can stay safe from the virus.
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