CLEVELAND, Ohio – Although many of the devastating effects of the pandemic are still unknown, a new study from Cleveland State University found that Ohio’s death rate exceeded that of most other states, and Cuyahoga County had the third highest death rate among the nation’s 100 largest. counties.
The study looked death rate – the proportion of deaths per population – of each state and county in the United States from mid-2020 near the start of the pandemic to mid-2021, using Census Bureau estimates released last month. While deaths have been slowly rising in the country for some time, the pandemic has created a surge in numbers.
“COVID is an instigating event,” said study author Richey Piiparinen, director of urban theory and analysis at CSU’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs. “But what you have is a population that has been battling health issues for decades. This acute event is therefore almost like a forest fire on a pile of flammable material that has been sitting and growing for decades.
There was a 19% increase in deaths nationwide from 2019 to 2020 after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest increase in mortality in 100 years, according to the US Census Bureau. And more than 73% of US counties had more deaths than births in 2021, an increase of 55.5% from 2020.
In terms of death rate, Ohio went from 10.08 deaths per 1,000 population in 2019 to 12.25 in 2021, a 21% increase in two years.
The gain of 2.17 deaths per 1,000 people put Ohio in eighth place among states for the increase in mortality. States with higher rates over the same period include Alabama, Mississippi, Maine, Arkansas and West Virginia.
Small counties in Appalachia suffered the most casualties within the state, with more than 16 people dead per 1,000 in some counties.
These areas were likely hit harder as they tended to age, a population more likely to die from COVID-19, said Piiparinen. About 70% of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States are people aged 70 or older.
Among urban areas in Ohio, Cuyahoga County was the worst, with 12.85 deaths per 1,000 population. And among the 100 largest counties in the United States, Cuyahoga’s rate was topped only by Pinellas County of Tampa (15.26) and Allegheny County of Pittsburgh (12.98).
Cuyahoga County Factors
Piiparien reasoned that Cuyahoga’s higher rate compared to some other areas of the state could be related to deindustrialization, concentration of poverty, and segregation, among other factors.
Additionally, Cuyahoga County is older (17.4% of its population is 65 and older) than the other two large counties – Hamilton (15.7%) and Franklin (12.4%).
“COVID has really brought to light health disparities and inequalities that have been going on for some time,” says Piiiparinen. “That’s why you see this decrease in life expectancy, especially for minority populations.”
Another factor, Piiparinen said, could be the size of the minority population. Minorities make up 21.6% of Ohio residents, but 41.4% in Cuyahoga County and 65.8% in the city of Cleveland.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected minorities, from increased death rates to lack of access to vaccines. Life expectancy for black men has been lowered to 67.73 years in the United States, a level not seen since 1998, according to a BMJ study. Additionally, Ohio had one of the lowest life expectancies in the country before the pandemic.
Piiparinen says part of that disparity is because segregating neighborhoods by race and class is how amenities such as schools, healthcare, the internet, green spaces and access to food are determined, often going to the wealthiest areas. Meanwhile, segregated neighborhoods continue to be poorer and with fewer resources, even as they struggle with lead exposure, contaminated water, and dirty air, which in turn leads to more health issues. for members of this community.
Franklin County (37.9% minority) and Hamilton County (35.2%) have smaller minority populations and may have been less affected by deindustrialization, Piiparinen said.
Historically, when life expectancy rates recover quickly after being reduced due to war and diseases like World War II and the Spanish flu, Piiparinen thinks the same may not be true when the pandemic will subside.
“The problem here is that we’ve had such chronic poor health in America for so long,” Piiparinen says. “I think it was a slow tidal wave that finally crashed. It’s been going on for 25 years.”