More than 5,500 Nevadans have lost their lives to COVID-19 over the last year.
While some have brushed off those deaths by suggesting those who died had only a few years left to live because of their age or underlying conditions, a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services, obtained by The Nevada Independent, counters those assumptions.
The department’s analysis of COVID-19 attributable deaths in Nevada found that 42,232 years of life in the state were lost to the virus over the last year, with an average of 13 years of life lost per death. The average age of death from COVID-19 in Nevada, the report found, was 65 years — much younger than the life expectancy of 81 years for women and 76 years for men.
“We hear people say, ‘Well, they were all old, and they were going to die anyway.’ This really drives home, ‘Well, yes, in 13 years, approximately.’ You can accomplish a lot of your life in a 13-year period,” state biostatistician Kyra Morgan said in an interview. “I think this is putting a new lens on it to hopefully make people step back and realize that some of those numbers we’ve become so accustomed to seeing are actually still very alarming.”
The report calculated years of potential life lost by subtracting each person’s age at death from their life expectancy. People who died from COVID-19 after exceeding their life expectancy were not included in the analysis. The report looked at all COVID-19 deaths between March 15, 2020 and April 14, 2021.
Significantly, the analysis found substantial disparities between the years of life lost from COVID-19 by white Nevadans and Nevadans of color. Hispanic Nevadans collectively lost nearly 16,000 years of life, compared to a little more than 13,000 years of life lost by white Nevadans — even though the state’s Hispanic population is less than two-thirds the size of its white population.
Adjusted for population size, Hispanic Nevadans lost 1,662 years of life per 100,000, nearly double the 858 years of life white Nevadans lost.
“Even being someone who looks at the data a lot and is fully aware of the disparities that are hitting our Hispanic community, I was even taken aback by that,” Morgan said.
She pointed to several likely contributing factors behind those disparities: a lack of access early on to COVID-19 testing and, now, vaccinations; less access to health care overall and the prevalence of multi-generational households. She added the data may also suggest that Hispanics Nevadans are simply passing away from COVID-19 at a younger age than their white counterparts.
“I think that's extremely alarming because it really does mean that those folks who have died have died significantly younger in the Hispanic population,” Morgan said.
Black Nevadans fared even worse: While they collectively lost a little more than 4,800 years of life in raw numbers, adjusted for population they lost 1,711 years of life per 100,000. Those who identify as Asian and Pacific Islander lost 1,429 years per 100,000, while those who identify as Native American lost 1,090 years per 100,000.
The age group that lost the most years of life in terms of both raw numbers and adjusted for population size were 60- to 69-year-olds, who lost a little more than 13,000 years of life, collectively, or 3,873 years per 100,000.
“People might interpret that as an elderly population, but those folks have a lot of life left,” Morgan said.
Those in their 40s and 50s also lost more years of life in both raw numbers and adjusted for population size than the 70 and up group, as adults in the 40- to 69-year-old range are both more vulnerable to the virus than younger adults but also have more potential years of life left to live than those in the 70 and up group.
Still, the report found a significant impact on years of life lost among kids and younger adults. To date, 119 people under the age of 40 in Nevada have died from COVID-19, but the report found they collectively lost 4,738 years of potential life.
Though it is well known that more men die from COVID-19 than women, the report underscored that fact. Men lost nearly 25,000 life years in Nevada to COVID-19 compared to a little more than 17,000 life years lost by women in the state.
“This is actually one condition where we see gender-specific disparities. A lot more men pass away from COVID than women, especially considering that they're infected at similar rates,” Morgan said. “Unless it's a condition that biologically and physiologically affects one gender or the other, it's uncommon for a widespread communicable disease to have a big gender disparity.”
Reflecting on the report, Morgan acknowledged that it’s possible that those who died from COVID-19 had underlying conditions that would have shortened their life expectancy — meaning they may not have lived to 76 or 81 anyway — though she noted that life expectancy projections take underlying conditions into account. If life expectancy were to exclude people with comorbidities, it would likely be several years longer.
She also noted that most of the population has at least one comorbidity — like being overweight, a smoker, or pregnant — that puts them at risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
“There's a lot of people walking around that technically would have an underlying health condition,” Morgan said. “But when we look at them or engage with them, we might think they appear perfectly healthy.”
Explore the demographic breakdown of years of potential life lost to COVID-19 in Nevada below: