July 31, 2020

Although adults ages 65 and older comprise the majority of coronavirus-related deaths in the United States, there's substantial variation in the numbers of deaths linked to the virus by age group from state to state—with younger adults accounting for up to 29% of such deaths in certain states, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

Analysis details

For the analysis, KFF used data from CDC's "Provisional Covid-19 Death Counts by Sex, Age, and State" as of July 22 for the week ending in July 11.

KFF excluded nine states from its analysis—Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming—as those states had a discrepancy of more than 10% between their total numbers of coronavirus-related deaths by age group and their total numbers of deaths overall within the states. According to KFF, these discrepancies are likely explained by the suppression of death counts fewer than 10 by age group, as required by confidentiality standards from the National Center for Health Statistics.

South has higher share of younger coronavirus deaths

The analysis found that adults ages 65 and older with the coronavirus continue to be the age group most at risk of becoming seriously ill and dying, with that age group accounting for 16% of the overall population in the country, but 80% of coronavirus-related deaths in the United States.

However, the analysis noted that there's substantial variation in the distribution of coronavirus-related deaths by age group by state, with states in the South and along the Sunbelt reporting higher-than-average percentages of younger adults with the coronavirus dying.

Overall, the District of Columbia and Texas had the highest percentages of coronavirus-related deaths among individuals under the age of 65, at 29% each.

Other states with comparatively high shares of coronavirus-related deaths among individuals under the age of 65 included:

  • New Mexico (27%);
  • Arizona (26%);
  • Mississippi (26%);
  • California (24%);
  • Nevada (24%);
  • Alabama (23%);
  • New York (23%); and
  • Tennessee (23%).

Meanwhile, Idaho and West Virginia each had zero deaths among individuals with the coronavirus who were younger than 65, while Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island each had reported fewer than 10% of their total coronavirus-related deaths among individuals under the age of 65.

Analysis

According to Axios' "Vitals," KFF's findings demonstrate the dangers of underplaying the risks of coronavirus infection among younger adults, especially given the recent surge in new coronavirus cases among younger Americans in states in the South and along the Sunbelt. That said, KFF in its analysis noted that many states with lower-than-average percentages of deaths among older adults with the coronavirus have experienced more severe outbreaks more recently than some states with average and higher percentages of deaths among older adults. As such, states with lower-than-average percentages of deaths among older adults may see these proportions rise over time.

Overall, according to KFF, the mortality trends by age group likely stem from states' differing policies toward combatting the coronavirus, the prevalence of people with underlying medical conditions in each state, and the racial composition of each state's population (Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 7/27; Freed et. al., Kaiser Family Foundation Analysis, 7/24).

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