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Who's dying in California from COVID-19?

Nurse Trysta Almeida brings an a tablet into the room of a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit for a video visit at El Camino Health's Mountain View campus on Jan. 14, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Lea este artículo en español.

It's been longer than a year and a half since COVID-19 first arrived in California, and the demographics of who is dying from the virus are changing.

So far, 67,628 people have died in California during the pandemic, more than in any other state. In recent months, those who are dying are younger on average. And, unsurprisingly, people of color are still among the most devastated by COVID-19, with the highest death rates among Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and Black people.

Here's a by-the-numbers look at COVID-19 deaths in California.

How much younger are they?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the average age for Californians who died from COVID-19 is 73. But in April through September the average age dropped to 67, and in August and September, it dropped to 66, according to a California Department of Public Health analysis of state data.

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"We are observing that it's not the older populations that were first dominating a number of fatalities in the pandemic," said Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra. "It's now skewing younger and younger in terms of who gets hospitalized and — unfortunately — who goes on to have a very tragic outcome of a fatality."

A major reason? Older people are vaccinated at higher rates than younger residents. About 67% of Californians 18 to 49 are fully vaccinated, compared to 73% for people 65 and older.

Hospitalizations and infections are on the rise for Californians under 18. But old age — and the underlying conditions that come with it — will still be an important factor in death rates, said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

What's the racial breakdown? Has it changed?

Latinos are dying at a lower rate than white and Black people in California, according to the state's data. However, Latinos have had the sharpest increase in the death rate in the last month, rising from 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people in August to 4 per 100,000 in September. That rate, however, is far eclipsed by the peak last January, when 11 Latinos died per 100,000.

For Black people, 7.4 per 100,000 people died from COVID-19 this month, up from six deaths per 100,000 in August yet down from 9.3 last January. Death rates in Asian American populations and white people also increased this month. Asian Americans currently have California's second lowest death rate.

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The culprit is most likely vaccine disparities: Latinos make up 39.4% of California's vaccine eligible population but they've only received 29.5% of the doses. This means that, proportionally, not as many doses are finding their way into Latino communities as they should, health experts say. Black people also make up a higher share of the vaccine-eligible population than the doses they have received.

'The myths and the misgivings … are real for the communities who have suffered at the hands, historically, of a racist, systemic problem.'

-Sarah Reyes, managing director of communications at The California Endowment

A reason for these disparities could be the barriers that communities of color still face to accessing vaccines, including medical misinformation and hesitancy stemming from medical mistrust, according to Sarah Reyes, managing director of communications at the nonprofit California Endowment, which focuses on improving health care access in underserved communities.

"People have to understand that the myths and the misgivings of the medical community are real," Reyes said. "They're real for the communities who have suffered at the hands, historically, of a racist, systemic problem."

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders have died at the highest rate of any racial group. But some good news: The rate decreased from 18.4 deaths per 100,000 people in January to 17 in August and 11.8 in September.

Is there a growing gender gap?

Men are dying at a slightly higher rate than they were in the beginning of the pandemic, according to the state data.

In September of last year, 45.2% of deaths were female and 54.6% were male. But in August 2021, it was 41% female and 58.9% male, which shows that the gap is widening in favor of women.

In Long Beach, 70% of deaths since July 2021 have been males, compared to 58% from March 2020 through July 2021.

Before vaccine availability, males made up a slightly larger percentage of deaths than females. Now as the gap widens, vaccinations may play a role.

"I can't help to think that some of that is due to failure to vaccinate — differential failure to vaccinate, meaning that women are more likely to vaccinate than men," Rutherford said.

Women are more likely to be vaccinated than men in the state, and there is still a slight gap between the proportion of men who make up the state's vaccine population and those who still need to get vaccinated.

How do deaths in California compare to other states?

California, as of this past week, has the lowest seven-day death rate nationally — at five people dying for every million residents — and the lowest rate since January, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, what is happening in California is happening across the country: People 64 and under make up a larger share of deaths in 2021 than they did in 2020. National data also shows that the older you are, the more likely you are to be vaccinated.

How do counties compare?

The average age of Californians dying from COVID is skewing younger across the state.

In Fresno County, people 50 to 69 years old now make up a larger share of COVID-19 deaths than they previously did, while those 70 and older are a smaller share.

In Long Beach, which has its own health department, the average age of COVID death since August 2021 is 59 years old, 13 years younger than March 2020 through July 2021. In Long Beach, 99% of people 65 and older are vaccinated.

In Riverside County, people under 45 made up 4.1% of total deaths between Jan. and March. Between June and Aug., that number jumped to 16.1%. Among adults, people under 45 have the lowest vaccination rates.

Eleven people died in Riverside County on Sept. 20 and five of those people were under 40, said Jose Arballo, senior public information specialist at Riverside University Health System-Public Health.

Were most of the people who died unvaccinated?

Vaccinated people make up a small fraction of the deaths — approximately 500. "Far and away without any doubt, without any question, 95% of (stopping deaths) is vaccines," Rutherford said.

Although there's still the potential for breakthrough cases, vaccination makes it much less likely that serious illness will develop.

So if the best way to prevent deaths is the vaccine, how do health officials get younger people to get the jab? It's complicated, but mandates — like proof of vaccination to go to restaurants or work in certain places — can help, Rutherford said. Fear can be a motivator, too.

"People are scared of the Delta variant — as they should be," Rutherford said.

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Who's dying in California from COVID-19?

by / CalMatters

Uploaded: Sun, Sep 26, 2021, 10:26 am

Lea este artículo en español.

It's been longer than a year and a half since COVID-19 first arrived in California, and the demographics of who is dying from the virus are changing.

So far, 67,628 people have died in California during the pandemic, more than in any other state. In recent months, those who are dying are younger on average. And, unsurprisingly, people of color are still among the most devastated by COVID-19, with the highest death rates among Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and Black people.

Here's a by-the-numbers look at COVID-19 deaths in California.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the average age for Californians who died from COVID-19 is 73. But in April through September the average age dropped to 67, and in August and September, it dropped to 66, according to a California Department of Public Health analysis of state data.

"We are observing that it's not the older populations that were first dominating a number of fatalities in the pandemic," said Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra. "It's now skewing younger and younger in terms of who gets hospitalized and — unfortunately — who goes on to have a very tragic outcome of a fatality."

A major reason? Older people are vaccinated at higher rates than younger residents. About 67% of Californians 18 to 49 are fully vaccinated, compared to 73% for people 65 and older.

Hospitalizations and infections are on the rise for Californians under 18. But old age — and the underlying conditions that come with it — will still be an important factor in death rates, said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

Latinos are dying at a lower rate than white and Black people in California, according to the state's data. However, Latinos have had the sharpest increase in the death rate in the last month, rising from 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people in August to 4 per 100,000 in September. That rate, however, is far eclipsed by the peak last January, when 11 Latinos died per 100,000.

For Black people, 7.4 per 100,000 people died from COVID-19 this month, up from six deaths per 100,000 in August yet down from 9.3 last January. Death rates in Asian American populations and white people also increased this month. Asian Americans currently have California's second lowest death rate.

The culprit is most likely vaccine disparities: Latinos make up 39.4% of California's vaccine eligible population but they've only received 29.5% of the doses. This means that, proportionally, not as many doses are finding their way into Latino communities as they should, health experts say. Black people also make up a higher share of the vaccine-eligible population than the doses they have received.

A reason for these disparities could be the barriers that communities of color still face to accessing vaccines, including medical misinformation and hesitancy stemming from medical mistrust, according to Sarah Reyes, managing director of communications at the nonprofit California Endowment, which focuses on improving health care access in underserved communities.

"People have to understand that the myths and the misgivings of the medical community are real," Reyes said. "They're real for the communities who have suffered at the hands, historically, of a racist, systemic problem."

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders have died at the highest rate of any racial group. But some good news: The rate decreased from 18.4 deaths per 100,000 people in January to 17 in August and 11.8 in September.

Men are dying at a slightly higher rate than they were in the beginning of the pandemic, according to the state data.

In September of last year, 45.2% of deaths were female and 54.6% were male. But in August 2021, it was 41% female and 58.9% male, which shows that the gap is widening in favor of women.

In Long Beach, 70% of deaths since July 2021 have been males, compared to 58% from March 2020 through July 2021.

Before vaccine availability, males made up a slightly larger percentage of deaths than females. Now as the gap widens, vaccinations may play a role.

"I can't help to think that some of that is due to failure to vaccinate — differential failure to vaccinate, meaning that women are more likely to vaccinate than men," Rutherford said.

Women are more likely to be vaccinated than men in the state, and there is still a slight gap between the proportion of men who make up the state's vaccine population and those who still need to get vaccinated.

California, as of this past week, has the lowest seven-day death rate nationally — at five people dying for every million residents — and the lowest rate since January, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, what is happening in California is happening across the country: People 64 and under make up a larger share of deaths in 2021 than they did in 2020. National data also shows that the older you are, the more likely you are to be vaccinated.

The average age of Californians dying from COVID is skewing younger across the state.

In Fresno County, people 50 to 69 years old now make up a larger share of COVID-19 deaths than they previously did, while those 70 and older are a smaller share.

In Long Beach, which has its own health department, the average age of COVID death since August 2021 is 59 years old, 13 years younger than March 2020 through July 2021. In Long Beach, 99% of people 65 and older are vaccinated.

In Riverside County, people under 45 made up 4.1% of total deaths between Jan. and March. Between June and Aug., that number jumped to 16.1%. Among adults, people under 45 have the lowest vaccination rates.

Eleven people died in Riverside County on Sept. 20 and five of those people were under 40, said Jose Arballo, senior public information specialist at Riverside University Health System-Public Health.

Vaccinated people make up a small fraction of the deaths — approximately 500. "Far and away without any doubt, without any question, 95% of (stopping deaths) is vaccines," Rutherford said.

Although there's still the potential for breakthrough cases, vaccination makes it much less likely that serious illness will develop.

So if the best way to prevent deaths is the vaccine, how do health officials get younger people to get the jab? It's complicated, but mandates — like proof of vaccination to go to restaurants or work in certain places — can help, Rutherford said. Fear can be a motivator, too.

"People are scared of the Delta variant — as they should be," Rutherford said.

Email Hannah Getahun at [email protected]

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics.

Comments

Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Sep 26, 2021 at 10:10 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Sep 26, 2021 at 10:10 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


John B. Sails
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 27, 2021 at 5:52 am
John B. Sails, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 5:52 am

Yes, get vaxxed like you have to go to school already.

However, Bill Maher is right. When I read such an article and there's not one word about obesity or diabetes or exercise or even nutrition and not smoking, I think, the people writing this article want to scare up some click bait. The numbers reported for COVID deaths include those going to the hospital and dying of all sorts of things and only incidentally testing positive for COVID while they were there. This does not make me in the evil red tribe to point this out.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2021 at 8:21 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 8:21 am

I agree with JBS.

Getting a positive test does not automatically mean that someone has a serious case of Covid. Anyone who is sick enough of anything will automatically be tested for Covid and some of those tests will be positive.

When the first deaths were announced in SCC, we were told the age, the gender, and whether the patient had other medical conditions. Those early deaths, from memory, had other medical conditions which may not have resulted in death on their own, but certainly could have added to the body's ability to fight Covid.

Why are we not hearing the medical experts telling us to lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more, stop smoking, etc. as tools to help fight Covid? We have a crisis of obesity and Covid should be a wake up call to remind us to look after our overall health.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Sep 27, 2021 at 8:49 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 8:49 am

I can't speak for the medical profession, but I'm a very logical person. The medical profession already knows that people need to lose weight, eat healthy, quit smoking, exercise regularly, quit drinking, etc. but they're well aware that people are adults. And if mature adults don't want to stay on top of their health, nothing doctors can say at this point will get through to them. These are wise decisions you need to make on your own, and if you chose not... there are consequences.

People aren't dying of Covid. They're dying of complications of Covid, and most people who've died had underlying health conditions. Most Covid cases are mild or moderate, and that's why a lot of people never feared Covid even prior to vaccination.

It's sad that so many people don't care about their health. And so many deaths were preventable.


Taylor Jeffries
Registered user
Stanford
on Sep 27, 2021 at 9:14 am
Taylor Jeffries, Stanford
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 9:14 am

Curious…why do the various red-state mentalities cling to non-clinically proven ‘remedies’ such as swallowing chlorox, horse de-wormer, and now iodine?

Wouldn’t it be easier just to get fully vaccinated like the other 54% of the American population?

Is this simply a sign of ignorance or a firm belief in divine intervention?


John B. Sails
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 27, 2021 at 9:32 am
John B. Sails, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 9:32 am
Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2021 at 10:38 am
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 10:38 am

Please, people, get vaccinated and mask up to stop this virus from spreading and mutating. Let's protect our children. Let's get our economy moving again. Let's collaborate to free ourselves to gather again. Let's do what we must do TOGETHER to beat a common enemy.

Red or blue, I don't care. We are all people. Let's help each other be safe and do what we can to put an end to this pandemic.


BP
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 27, 2021 at 10:54 am
BP , Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 10:54 am

Federal and state governments should mandate that employers give employees and contractors time off to get the shots + time off to recuperate from the symptoms. Not everyone who hasn't been vaccinated is an anti-vaxxer or COVID denier.


Fr0hickey
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 27, 2021 at 11:34 am
Fr0hickey, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 11:34 am

Enough with the vaccine mandates. It’s not working.
We need to mandate healthy living. Mandatory exercises and run a marathon a month, minimum. Eat only vegetables and zero meat. Mandatory weight loss and caloric reduction for everyone.


Devon Lassiter
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 27, 2021 at 1:02 pm
Devon Lassiter, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 1:02 pm

> Fr0hickey/a resident of Old Palo Alto

Good luck with those mandates.

America is one of the most overweight/obese countries on Earth and 'couch potatoing' is a national pastime.


Marilyn Kendrick
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2021 at 1:48 pm
Marilyn Kendrick, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 1:48 pm

What makes Democrat leaders (including Gavin [email protected] French Laundry, Barrack Obama'[email protected] lavish and maskless birthday party/Martha's Vineyard, and now the nightclubbing & maskless) SF Mayor London Breed exempt to break all of the rules they mandate or emphasize for others?

And let's not forget maskless Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi exposed having her hair done at a SF salon last summer?

Hypocrites or self-privileged phonies?


John B. Sails
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 27, 2021 at 2:21 pm
John B. Sails, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 2:21 pm

yeah, (fully vaxxed) Mayor Breed at a must show proof of vax to enter club, with other fully vaxxed people, almost all young and fit, not wearing a mask between her, uh, drinks of sparkling wine, was it? all these examples sorry to say, were overblown (not that you are wrong for pointing them out). Dems have to cry crocodile tears for doing things--and Gaven was outside!, to placate the overreacting craziest blue social media warriors in CA on their damn smart phones late at night. The vax is different. It should be mandated like the polio and measles shots you give your kindergartner. Do you whine about making kids take those? Of course not.


Fr0hickey
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2021 at 8:03 am
Fr0hickey, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 28, 2021 at 8:03 am

@Devon Lassiter
It’s not good luck on the mandates.
My mandates will be enforced by law. If you do not eat your vegetables, run a marathon a month, lose 30lbs a month each and every month and reduce your calories to 1000/day, then you will be put into prison turning big rocks into small rocks.
That’s is the way to do mandates correctly. Besides, we have room in the prisons after they were emptied due to the pandemic.


John
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 28, 2021 at 8:48 am
John, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 28, 2021 at 8:48 am

Interesting to look at international data and see that Covid is not raging in countries lacking mass vaccination. India is doing relatively well, so is the African continent. Healthier populations? Frequent ingestion of anti-malarial drugs?

Japan and several Scandinavian countries have lifted ALL covid restrictions. I don’t have the answers- I just think the data is interesting to consider in context


Pierce Jepsen
Registered user
Stanford
on Sep 28, 2021 at 1:21 pm
Pierce Jepsen, Stanford
Registered user
on Sep 28, 2021 at 1:21 pm

- "India is doing relatively well, so is the African continent. Healthier populations?"

^ Seriously? The Delta variant has raged throughout India and only 2% of the African population is fully vaxed against Covid-19.

An endemic could prove to be the final outcome without full-scale global vaccinations.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2021 at 1:52 pm
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 28, 2021 at 1:52 pm

"hesitancy stemming from medical mistrust"
While true, the phrase makes it sound like people are mistrustful of events long ago and THEIR mistrust rather than the ongoing treatment they experience that feeds the mistrust is the problem.

Let me first say, I have been vaccinated and wish everyone would just go get their shots.This is not like other vaccines where the diseases are under control. In the 1918 flu, there were also several waves; the earliest affected the elderly, the weakest, people in prisons, etc. Then it came through again and hit healthy people in the prime of life. The average age is already skewing younger. We don't know anything with any certainty about what might happen next year.

That said, I understand the mistrust. Much is written in medical literature about how poorly our system deals w/chronic illness, esp people with multiple conditions (which tends to happen because of how poorly our system deals w/chronic conditions); biases and inequities contribute to these in the first place.

When I got Covid early in 2020, I never sought medical help in spite of getting worn out by the struggle to breathe. Because of the disrespectful/dismissive treatment in medical settings, and b/c it didn't first seem like Covid, I expected as usual I was better off just dealing with the symptoms myself. (Confirmed later by positive blood testS.) For many people (esp women), it's just humiliating, costly, and unhelpful to seek any care with a chronic disease history. Women are like 5X more likely to be sent home from the ER in the middle of a heart attack, or more likely to be observed than given appropriate care. Try bringing up a concern about whether unusual cardiac symptoms relate to a recent Covid infection when you have a history of poorly-dealt-with chronic health problems. Ugh.

If you've never experienced medical personnel doing degrading, risky or even harmful things to you out of disrespect, spite, or just good ol' misogyny, its hard to understand.


MaryAnne Borgers
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 28, 2021 at 2:41 pm
MaryAnne Borgers, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 28, 2021 at 2:41 pm

Answer: the unvaxed population who uphold the belief that (1) their freedom is being violated, (2) the vaccines are unsafe, and (3) God will protect them.

This is primarily a red-state of mind perspective perpetuated by the Central Valley and inland regions (along with Orange County).

As a physician's assistant, it is very difficult to have empathy for these unvaccinated folks when they are hospitalized & dying from COVID and we have an increasingly difficult job to do as these anti-vaxers are very steadfast in their beliefs.


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