The demographics of California COVID deaths have changed since 2020

As California settles into its third year of the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat of death. But the death toll – and the demographics of the victims – have changed significantly over the first two years.

Given the collective immunity people have achieved through a combination of mass vaccination and built-in protection from earlier infections, Californians overall were much less likely to die from COVID in 2022, when compared to the first two years of the pandemic. The comparison was dominated by the Omicron variant, when other variants were largely in vogue, fueling a national trend.

Yet, every week, the virus continues to kill hundreds of Californians, the hardest-hit among those without vaccinations. The virus remained the leading cause of death in the state in July, leaving behind heart disease, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, but overtook diabetes, accidental death and many other debilitating diseases. In the first seven months of the year, about 13,500 California residents died of COVID, according to preliminary death certificate data from the state Department of Public Health. By comparison, the virus killed around 31,400 in 2020 and around 44,000 in 2021.

From April 2020 to December 2021, COVID killed an average of 3,600 people a month, making it the third leading cause of death cumulatively after heart disease and cancer in the state. From December 2020 to February 2021, it overtook heart disease as the leading cause of death, killing more than 38,300 Californians in just three months. During its most recent peak, in January 2022, COVID killed about 5,900 people.

Covid dropped out of the top 10 causes of death in the spring only to re-enter this summer as the Omicron variant continued to mutate. In July, with more than 70% of Californians fully vaccinated, COVID was the fifth leading cause of death, taking more than 1,000 lives, state data shows.

Clearly vaccination made a difference. The COVID death rate fell in recent months as COVID shots and prior infections provided the population with significant protection against serious illness, said Dr. Timothy BrewerProfessor of Medicine and Epidemiology at UCLA. Brewer said the Omicron variant, while more transmissible than the earlier strains, appears to be a milder version of the virus.

Research on that question is ongoing, but preliminary data suggests that Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness and death. Centers for Disease Control and PreventionJoe also notes that the severity of symptoms can be affected by vaccination status, age, and other health conditions.

The decline in deaths was particularly striking among California’s Latino population.

In 2020 and 2021, Latino residents accounted for 47% of COVID deaths in California – about 35,400 deaths – although they make up 40% of the state’s population. By comparison, Latinos accounted for 34% of COVID deaths from January to July 2022, according to state data. This translates to about 4,600 deaths.

In contrast, the proportion of COVID deaths from white residents increased from 32% in the first two years of the pandemic to 44% in the first seven months of 2022. This equates to 24,400 deaths of white residents and about 6,000 deaths in 2020-21. The first seven months of 2022. White people make up about 35% of the state’s population.

Researchers point to several factors in the shift. During the first two years of the pandemic, a large number of workers deemed essential, who continued to report in person at job sites, were Latinos, while white residents were more likely to be employed in businesses that allowed them to stay home. allowed to operate from the U.S. Census Bureau surveys show.

“They just got more exposed,” said Dr. George RutherfordProfessor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California-San Francisco. “They are doing essential work and had to leave home and go to work.”

Census data shows an imbalance in remote work remains, but today the vast majority of workers in California, both Latino and white, are reporting to work in person.

Seccia AquinoEfforts to ensure that testing, treatments and vaccinations were available to underserved communities of color also had an impact, said the deputy director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. And because Latino communities were hit hardest during the pandemic, she said, many California Latinos are still wearing masks. “They’re still making sure they stay home if they’re sick,” she said. “They are still following those policies, even though more and more of the narrative is changing.”

Brewer said age is also an important factor in demographic change.

Californians aged 75 and older made up 53% of COVID deaths during July in 2022, up from 46% in 2020 and 2021. Only 6% of the state’s residents are 75 and above. And white Californians 75 and older outnumber Latinos in that age group about 3 to 1.

In the initial vaccination rollout, California prioritized senior citizens, first responders and other essential workers, and for several months into 2021, older residents were more likely to be vaccinated than younger Californians.

“Now, vaccination rates have gone up significantly with everyone except children, those under the age of 18,” Brewer said. “You see this is what we saw earlier, that age is the most important risk factor for death.”

More than 86% of Californians aged 65 and over have completed their primary COVID shot series. But the protection offered by vaccines diminishes over time, and since many seniors get their shots early, enough time elapses between their second shot and the omicron wave of early 2022, leaving them vulnerable. go. About one-third of Californians 65 and older had not received a booster until early 2022, when the Omicron wave peaked, and about one-quarter still haven’t received a booster.

Geographic variations in COVID spread have occurred throughout the pandemic: outbreaks occur in one area while another is spared, and then a few months later another community serves as the epicenter.

Residents of the San Francisco-Oakland metro area accounted for 7.8% of the state’s deaths in 2022, up from 5.4% in 2020-21 at the beginning of September. The region is home to about 12% of the state’s residents. The Sacramento metro area also has a high share of COVID deaths this year: 6% in 2022 versus 4.5% in 2020-21.

At the same time, residents of the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Metro made up 42% of COVID deaths in 2022, down slightly from 43% in 2020-21. The region is home to about 33% of the state’s residents. A similar dip occurred in the nearby Riverside-San Bernardino metro area.

Again, age may be a factor in geographic variation. Census data shows that San Francisco and Sacramento have a higher proportion of residents age 75 and older than in Los Angeles and Riverside.

It is not clear whether this change will last. In form of Los Angeles Times reportedCOVID deaths rose at a faster rate in LA County in July than they did in the Bay Area.

The data also shows that vaccination is one of the strongest barriers to death from COVID. From January to July, non-vaccinated Californians died at nearly five times the rate of vaccinated Californians. But the difference has narrowed. From April to December 2021, non-vaccinated California residents died, on average, at nearly 10 times the rate of vaccinated Californians.

Brewer said the difference narrowed because the Omicron variant was more likely than the earlier variant to “break through” and cause infection in vaccinated Californians. The Omicron variant, while less lethal, infects many more people than the earlier variant.

This trend may also prove to be short-lived: Next-generation COVID booster shots are rolling out across the state.

Philip Reese is a data reporting specialist and assistant professor of journalism at California State University-Sacramento. This article first appeared On California Healthline, which is produced by Kaiser Health News.

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