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Covid-19 narrows long-standing Latino mortality advantage, study finds

Covid-19 killed Latinos ages 65 or older at 2.1 times the rate of whites in 2020.
Chaplain Kevin Deegan hugs registered nurse Connie Carrillo
Chaplain Kevin Deegan hugs registered nurse Connie Carrillo at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, which serves a predominantly Latinx patient population, in Los Angeles on Feb. 17, 2021.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

Latinos have long had lower mortality rates compared to non-Hispanic whites, living more than three years longer in what many refer to as the Latino mortality paradox.

That ended with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having killed more than 1 million people in the U.S., the coronavirus reshaped the nation's mortality patterns and the long-standing Latino mortality advantage, particularly among older Latinos, according to new research published Thursday by the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University.

Covid-19 killed Latinos ages 65 or older at 2.1 times the rate of whites in 2020. That contributed to a decline in the Latino mortality advantage, which went down to 10.5 percent in the first year of the pandemic, the research found. In 2019, before the pandemic, the death rate among older Latino adults was 28.7 percent lower than it was for whites.

A peer-reviewed study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed the life expectancy of Latinos in the U.S. decreased by nearly four years from 2019 to 2020.

The rate at which Covid-19 continued to kill Latinos ages 65 or older during the pandemic slightly decreased in 2021, which has continued this year.

Last year, older Latinos died from the virus at 1.6 times the rate of whites. As of last month, older Latinos have been dying from the virus at 1.2 times the rate of whites this year, the research shows. That caused the Latino mortality advantage to increase to 15 percent last year and to 19.3 percent this year. 

Despite the modest rebound, the overall Latino mortality advantage “has narrowed substantially,” researchers Marc A. Garcia of Syracuse University and Rogelio Sáenz of the University of Texas at San Antonio concluded.

"COVID-19 has diminished the long-standing Latino advantage in all-cause mortality relative to Whites due to their disproportionate rate of COVID-19 deaths, particularly during the first two years of the pandemic," the researchers wrote.

The virus has killed nearly 124,000 Latinos in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, accounting for 17 percent of the nation’s Covid deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Latinos make up nearly 19 percent of the population.

Most Latinos, regardless of age, have died of Covid-19 at a rate almost twice that of the country’s white population, according to the CDC. The agency also lists Covid-19 as the top cause of death for Hispanics. For whites, Covid-19 is the third-leading cause of death.

Garcia and Sáenz found that Covid-19 mortality disparities are "likely driven by structural factors that are modifiable by governmental intervention."

The factors include differences in the risk of exposure to the virus at home or at work and disparities in access to health care — particularly among older Latinos, who are "more likely to be uninsured and lack access to high-quality healthcare" than other racial or ethnic groups. 

"To achieve population health equity, transformative actions are necessary to target high-risk populations and improve community infrastructure to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and death," the researchers concluded.

Garcia and Sáenz mainly cited "providing universal healthcare" as an action that would reduce health disparities among the most vulnerable populations.

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