News Release

Why are 9 out of 10 Covid Deaths Among Americans 65+?


Recent Washington Post analysis of CDC data shows that although adults over the age of 65 make up only 16 percent of the U.S. population, they account for nearly 90 percent of current Covid deaths. 

    Wrigley-Field is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology and the Minnesota Population Center. She specializes in racial inequality in mortality and historical infectious disease. 

Wrigley-Field said: “Age is also a marker for other demographics in the U.S. This population is whiter and more rural, and that has always been a real complication. Meanwhile, people of color have substantially died at younger ages. That’s a big part of why we’ve lost more life expectancy than other countries. Now we have deaths shifting to rural, whiter areas––so older areas.”

She added: “At the beginning of the pandemic, [this age group] made up around 80 percent of deaths. That number dropped to around 60 percent in 2021. But now, it’s back at 90 percent. There are several things going on here. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where there has been a resurgence, were relatively safer in 2021, because they were places where a lot of attention was paid to residents being vaccinated and making vaccines available. There was a lot of focus organizationally on making that happen––including the early eligibility of people who were residents of nursing homes. And that mattered: in 2021, the proportion of nursing home deaths was lower, and the age at death was lower. Both of those trends have reversed.”

Wrigley-Field noted that she is struck by the rate of deaths in nursing homes. “If you were trying to think about how to create a superspreader with as much force as possible,” it would look like a nursing home. Further, “we’ve designed a situation where people who live in those facilities are at much greater risk of disease––not just Covid––because we pay the people who work in them so little and they often have to work multiple jobs. It’s completely predictable that this results in a lot of needless deaths. There is no long-term solution that makes people safer that doesn’t involve those who work in care jobs being treated and paid much, much better than they are [now]. I think there’s a real ceiling on how safe we can be unless we treat people in care jobs a lot better.” 

Wrigley-Field pointed out that “what is even more concerning” to her than deaths among older people is “the fact that deaths are still so high.”