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US life expectancy fell by a year in first half of 2020 amid COVID-19

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Life expectancy in the US declined by a year during the first half of 2020 – to the lowest level in 15 years – due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The study by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics published Thursday shows the life expectancy at birth dropped by a year from 2019 to 77.8 years, the lowest since 2006, USA Today reported.

“These numbers are horrifying, but not unexpected,” population health expert Dr. Alexander C. Tsai told UPI.

“The last time [life expectancy] was 77.8 years was about a decade and a half ago — so that is a lot of public health progress that was erased in just six months,” said Tsai, a psychiatrist with the Center for Global Health at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.

The decrease was even greater among blacks, whose life expectancy dropped by 2.7 years to 72 years, and Latinos, who experienced the second-largest drop by falling 1.9 years to 79.9 years, according to the report.

Among men, life expectancy dropped to 75.1 years from 76.3 years during the same period, while it declined to 80.5 years from 81.4 years for women, the CDC said.

Thousands of flags are laid at the National Mall in Washington, DC to commemorate lives lost due to COVID-19.
Thousands of flags are laid at the National Mall in Washington, DC to commemorate lives lost due to COVID-19.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

 “It was disturbing to see that gains that have been made for the black community and decreasing the gap between life expectancy for African- Americans and (white) Americans over the past six years had come to a halt,” Dr. Leon McDougle, president of the National Medical Association, told USA Today.

Black Americans infected with COVID-19 are hospitalized at 2.9 times the rate of whites and die at 1.9 times the rate, according to CDC data.

Latinos are hospitalized at more than three times the rate and die more than twice the rate of whites.

Life expectancy in the country dropped from 2014 to 2017 by 0.3 years and slightly increased from 2018 through 2019 by 0.2 years, according to CDC data.

A deceased patient is wrapped with bed sheets and a body bag in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center.
A deceased patient is wrapped with bed sheets and a body bag in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center.
Go Nakamura/Getty Images

But the US experienced a backslide due to the pandemic, according to Michal Engelman, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“This has been an issue of concern for a while, that we weren’t making progress and we were sliding a little bit backwards,” Engelman told the newspaper. “After a couple of years of worrisome declines, we dropped as a country a whole year just in the first half of 2020.”

Health experts are worried that the life expectancy in all of 2020 will be worse than the half-year numbers because they do not reflect the fall and winter surges that led to record deaths from the pandemic, according to USA Today.

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