When the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the U.S. in March 2020, and for months afterwards, Black people were at least three times more likely to die of COVID-19 than their white peers — but now white Americans are consistently more likely to die from the disease, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, based on its in-depth, age-adjusted analysis of federal COVID-19 death data from April 2020 through last summer.
The Black-white mortality gap narrowed and widened, then first flipped in October 2021, the Post found. White people have been consistently dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than Black and Hispanic Americans since April 2022, and Asian American mortality rates have been lower since a year before that.
"So what contributed to the recent variation in death rates?" the Post asked. "The easy explanation is that it reflects the choices of Republicans not to be vaccinated, but the reasons go deeper," including opposition to mask-wearing and hospital closures in predominantly white rural areas.
But it's also about vaccination. Black and white Americans were equally reluctant to get the COVID vaccine when it first became available, but Black people overcame that hesitation more quickly, Tasleem Padamsee, an assistant professor at Ohio State University, tells the Post.
At the same time, it has been evident for months that Republicans are dying from COVID at higher rates than Democrats.
A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that excess death rates in Ohio and Florida — or deaths above what would be expected — were 76 percent higher among Republicans than Democrats from March 2020 to December 2021. "The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available," the Yale researchers report.
A study published in the journal Health Affairs in June found a similar partisan gap at the county level. David Leonhardt at The New York Times dubbed this phenomenon "Red COVID." Over the spring and summer, the partisan "gap did narrow somewhat," as predicted, he writes. "But it has begun growing again in the past two months."
"Experts are still puzzling over why these differences exist," NBC News reports, whether it's more about low vaccination rates among Republicans, greater use of public mitigation measures in Democratic areas, or — as the Post posits — a complicated snarl of racial and class politics. Republican areas, with lower vaccination rates, are also shunning the extremely effective antiviral Paxlovid, Leonhardt notes. "That mistake has had tragic consequences."