Still, life-years is only one metric by which to measure loss, said Ayesha Mahmud, a health demographer and epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the analysis. Dr. Mahmud stressed the importance of not undervaluing the lives of older people simply because they might have fewer potential years left — a mind-set that can disadvantage older populations and minimize their disease burden.
Several other researchers have published similar observations on the number of years of potential life eliminated by the pandemic.
Every new analysis can serve as an important reminder of the staggering pace at which the coronavirus has torn through the nation, Dr. Mahmud said. “For me, what’s striking is that this has happened in such a short period of time,” she said.
Even losses enumerated by life-years do not represent the full costs exacted by the pandemic, said Maimuna Majumder, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the analysis. Researchers still do not fully understand the long-term repercussions of a coronavirus infection, which can throw the body into flux for months, perhaps longer, often with debilitating symptoms.
Deaths are also not distributed uniformly across the population. Age is certainly one factor that can influence an individual’s risk. Dr. Elledge’s analysis also showed that men, who tend to fare worse against the coronavirus, had lost more potential years of life than women.
People with certain health conditions, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, are also more likely to become seriously sick if they catch the virus. (Some of these underlying conditions can also reduce life expectancy; Dr. Elledge noted that his analysis was unable to account for this, and that the number of life-years lost in certain cases might have been artificially inflated.)
The pandemic has also had a disproportionate impact on Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native people, who are more likely to contract the coronavirus, and to become severely sick and die once an infection sets in. Roughly one in 920 Black Americans has died from the coronavirus, compared with one in 1,840 white Americans, according to one analysis. Another recent assessment found that the pandemic has more severely reduced life expectancies among Black and Latino populations, compared with their white neighbors. Black Americans already have lower life expectancies than white Americans.