Category Archives: coronavirus

How Did COVID-19 Change U.S. Life Expectancy?

The reports of how COVID-19 changed U.S. life expectancy are grim.

The pandemic crushed life expectancy in the United States last year by 1.5 years, the largest drop since World War II, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Wednesday. For Black and Hispanic people, their life expectancy declined by three years.

U.S. life expectancy declined from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020. The pandemic was responsible for close to 74 percent of that overall decline, though increased fatal drug overdoses and homicides also contributed.

“I myself had never seen a change this big except in the history books,” Elizabeth Arias, a demographer at the CDC and lead author of the new report, told The Wall Street Journal.

The figures for just COVID-19's impact on U.S. life expectancy are roughly in line with the CDC's preliminary estimates from February 2021, which was based on the then-available data through the first half of 2020.

Unfortunately, the CDC's estimates are rather misleading. Dr. Peter Bach, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, ran some back of the envelope calculations after the CDC released its preliminary estimates and came up with very different results.

The CDC reported that life expectancy in the U.S. declined by one year in 2020. People understood this to mean that Covid-19 had shaved off a year from how long each of us will live on average. That is, after all, how people tend to think of life expectancy. The New York Times characterized the report as “the first full picture of the pandemic’s effect on American expected life spans.”

But wait. Analysts estimate that, on average, a death from Covid-19 robs its victim of around 12 years of life. Approximately 400,000 Americans died Covid-19 in 2020, meaning about 4.8 million years of life collectively vanished. Spread that ghastly number across the U.S. population of 330 million and it comes out to 0.014 years of life lost per person. That’s 5.3 days. There were other excess deaths in 2020, so maybe the answer is seven days lost per person.

No matter how you look at it, the result is a far cry from what the CDC announced.

We built the following tool to do Bach's math, which checks out. You're welcome to update the figures with improved data or to replace them with other countries' data if you want to see the impact elsewhere in the world. If you're accessing this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to our site to access a working version of the tool.

COVID-19 Factors Affecting National Life Expectancy
Input DataValues
Number of COVID-19 Deaths in a Year
Estimated Average Years of Life Lost per COVID-19 Death
National Population

Change in National Life Expectancy
Calculated ResultsValues
Estimated Years of Life Lost for All COVID Deaths
Years of Life Lost per Person Due to COVID-19
Days of Life Lost per Person Due to COVID-19

So why is the CDC's estimate of the change in life expectancy estimate so different? As Bach explains, it is not because of either the data or the math, but rather, it is because of the CDC's assumptions in doing their math:

It’s not that the agency made a math mistake. I checked the calculations myself, and even went over them with one of the CDC analysts. The error was more problematic in my view: The CDC relied on an assumption it had to know was wrong.

The CDC’s life expectancy calculations are, in fact, life expectancy projections (the technical term for the measure is period life expectancy). The calculation is based on a crucial assumption: that for the year you are studying (2019 compared to 2020 in this case) the risk of death, in every age group, will stay as it was in that year for everyone born during it.

So to project the life expectancy of people born in 2020, the CDC assumed that newborns will face the risk of dying that newborns did in 2020. Then when they turn 1, they face the risk of dying that 1-year-olds did in 2020. Then on to them being 2 years old, and so on.

Locking people into 2020 for their entire life spans, from birth to death, may sound like the plot of a dystopian reboot of “Groundhog Day.” But that’s the calculation. The results: The CDC’s report boils down to a finding that bears no relation to any realistic scenario. Running the 2020 gauntlet for an entire life results in living one year less on average than running that same gauntlet in 2019.

Don’t blame the method. It’s a standard one that over time has been a highly useful way of understanding how our efforts in public health have succeeded or fallen short. Because it is a projection, it can (and should) serve as an early warning of how people in our society will do in the future if we do nothing different from today.

But in this case, the CDC should assume, as do we all, that Covid-19 will cause an increase in mortality for only a brief period relative to the span of a normal lifetime. If you assume the Covid-19 risk of 2020 carries forward unabated, you will overstate the life expectancy declines it causes.

In effect, the CDC's assumption projects the impact of COVID-19 in a world in which none of the Operation Warp Speed vaccines exist seeing as they only began rolling out in large numbers in the latter half of December 2020.

When the CDC repeats its life expectancy exercise next year, its estimates of the change in life expectancy should reflect the first year impact of the new COVID-19 vaccines, which will make for an interesting side by side comparison. Especially when comparisons of pre-vaccine case and death rates with post-vaccine data already look like the New Stateman's chart for the United Kingdom:

How the UK’s vaccine rollout has dramatically reduced Covid-19 deaths - Source: New Statesman (

HT: Marginal Revolution

Arizona COVID Cases on Slow Uptrend in Summer 2021

It has been nearly two months since we focused on Arizona's experience during the coronavirus pandemic. When we last checked, it appeared Arizona's level of COVID cases following the surge of uncontrolled immigrant crossings into the state was stabilizing.

That pattern held through the end of May 2021. However, beginning in the first week of June 2021, Arizona has experienced a slow upward trend in cases. That new trend can be seen in the following chart tracking the 7-day moving averages of the state's COVID cases and new hospital admissions. Presented in logarithmic scale, the figures for each data series has been aligned with respect to the approximate date of initial exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus variants infecting those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Arizona's Experience During the Coronavirus Pandemic, 15 March 2020 - 14 July 2021

At this time, the data for COVID deaths is as yet too incomplete to confirm the change in trend across all three data series.

The change in trend appears to roughly coincide with the Phoenix Suns' first trip to the NBA playoffs in more than a decade, which prompted large crowd gatherings and celebrations after the team beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs in the first week of June 2021. The team has continued its success, beating both the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers, and is now playing the Milwaukee Bucks for the championship in the NBA finals.

The situation parallels the change in trend we observed in California after the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series. The main difference is that Arizona's current upward trend is rising at a much slower rate. We think that difference is attributable to the Operation Warp Speed coronavirus vaccines, which have been successfully deployed to half the state's population, especially the state's senior population, which has reduced the incidence of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.

The state is also seeing an uptrend in COVID ICU cases that has really picked up in late June 2021.

Arizona's Experience During the Coronavirus Pandemic, 15 March 2020 - 14 July 2021

The timing of the increase in COVID ICU bed usage is delayed about two weeks behind what we would expect for a major change in the rate of incidence beginning in the first week of June 2021. We think this delay may be similar to what Arizona experienced following the Black Lives Matter protests and riots in late May and early June 2020 because of the age demographics of the participants. Then as now, younger individuals less likely to require hospitalization were infected in relatively larger numbers, which then spread to the older individuals they came in contact with following the event. The older individuals were the ones who drove up hospital admissions and ICU bed usage after they became sick, roughly two weeks afterward.

Exit question: Will any enterprising attorneys make the connection and hold the NBA accountable? They don't seem to have figured out the BLM protest connection in Arizona's May-June 2020 surge in COVID cases....

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our previous coverage of Arizona's experience with the coronavirus pandemic, presented in reverse chronological order.


We've continued following Arizona's experience during the coronavirus pandemic because the state's Department of Health Services makes detailed, high quality time series data available, which makes it easy to apply the back calculation method to identify the timing and events that caused changes in the state's COVID-19 trends. This section links that that resource and many of the others we've found useful throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Arizona Department of Health Services. COVID-19 Data Dashboard: Vaccine Administration. [Online Database]. Accessed 25 April 2021.

Stephen A. Lauer, Kyra H. Grantz, Qifang Bi, Forrest K. Jones, Qulu Zheng, Hannah R. Meredith, Andrew S. Azman, Nicholas G. Reich, Justin Lessler. The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Annals of Internal Medicine, 5 May 2020.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios. [PDF Document]. Updated 10 September 2020.

More or Less: Behind the Stats. Ethnic minority deaths, climate change and lockdown. Interview with Kit Yates discussing back calculation. BBC Radio 4. [Podcast: 8:18 to 14:07]. 29 April 2020.

Estimated Net Global GDP Lost to Coronavirus Pandemic Exceeds $15.6 Trillion

The triple dip global recession from the coronavirus pandemic continued tracking downward through the end of the second quarter of 2021.

We can see that result in the rate at which carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth's atmosphere. Here, we find the trailing year average of that rate continued to fall through June 2021, as the coronavirus pandemic's negative impact on economic activity continued to take a deep toll.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 1960 - June 2021

Since we're at a quarter end, we'll estimate the net reduction in global GDP that has resulted since December 2019 as a consequence of the pandemic and the actions of governments to cope with it. The net reduction of 0.47 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been entered as the default value for this data in the following tool. If you're accessing this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to our site to access a working version of the tool.

Change in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
Input DataValues
Change in Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere [Parts per Million]
World Population [billions]

Change in Amount of Carbon Dioxide Emitted into Atmosphere
Calculated ResultsValues
Carbon Dioxide Emissions [billions of Metric Tonnes]
Estimated Net Change in World GDP [trillions]

Using these default values, we estimate the net loss to global GDP some 18 months after the first stirrings of the coronavirus pandemic began impacting national economies exceeds $15.6 trillion.

From the end of March 2021 through June 2021, the coronavirus pandemic affected the large economies of India, China, and Japan, significant parts of Europe, and several nations in South America. Diminished economic activity correspondes with reduced rates of carbon dioxide being added to the Earth's air.

With other regions in the global economy experiencing strong recoveries, the negative impact being experienced in the regions coping with the pandemic has to be large enough to offset the increasing carbon dioxide emissions coinciding with their increased economic output.


National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 6 July 2021. Accessed 6 July 2021.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our series quantifying the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Earth's economy, presented in reverse chronological order.

U.S.-China Trade Recovery Slows to Near Stall in May 2021

According to trade data published by the U.S. Census Bureau, the year-over-year growth rate of trade between the U.S. and China slowed dramatically in May 2021.

Year Over Year Growth Rate of U.S.-China Trade, January 1986 - May 2021

A large portion of that year-over-year decline was expected, because it follows the trade recovery that began after the volume of trade between the two countries bottomed in March 2020 as the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic ended. However, the just-released data on imports and exports between the two countries fell significantly below projections for May 2021. Consequently, the gap between the trailing year average of the volume of trade between the U.S. and China and a "no coronavirus pandemic" counterfactual barely changed from the previous month:

Combined Value of U.S. Exports to China and Imports from China, January 2008 - May 2021

The size of that monthly gap peaked at $10.6 billion in October 2020 and had fallen to $7.5 billion through April 2021 as the trade recovery gained steam. May 2021's gap however was $7.4 billion, changing little from the previous month as the growth in the volume of trade stalled.

The following analysis discusses several of the major factors that contributed to May 2021's figures:

China's trade growth showed slower exports but faster imports. What's behind this divergence?

Exports in May 2021 grew 27.9%YoY, which is slower than the consensus expectation of 32% growth.

The main reason for the shortfall is that all export items related to semiconductor chips have slowed.

Auto processing products and parts, the biggest export item, fell 4%YoY in terms of export value. This is most likely the result of the semiconductor chip shortage.

The analysis also points to a new wave of coronavirus infections in China, which also negatively impacted trade logistics:

Since the end of May, there have been around 10 Covid cases daily in Guangdong, where most electronics factories are located.

Shipments from the port in Shenzhen that process most of the electronic throughput have been affected by Covid. Port workers now have to have Covid tests and port operations have been disrupted.

Some factories in Guangdong were also affected by Covid, mostly caused by workers queuing up for testing.

These factors are expected to continue negatively impact the data for June 2021, which will be published early next month.


Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. China / U.S. Foreign Exchange Rate. G.5 Foreign Exchange Rates. Accessed 5 July 2021.

U.S. Census Bureau. Trade in Goods with China. Accessed 5 July 2021.

COVID-19 at For- and Non-Profit Nursing Homes

On 15 June 2021, the New York State Bar Association's Task Force on Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care published its report on COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents in the state.

The report's biggest finding was to confirm the Cuomo administration's 25 March 2020 directive that forced nursing homes to blindly admit COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals without testing to determine if they were still contagious directly contributed to the deaths of nursing home residents in New York.

The report's appendices contain facility-specific detail regarding the COVID deaths nursing homes reported during the coronavirus pandemic, including whether they died in or out of their facility. It also indicates whether the nursing homes were for-profit or non-profit.

We wondered what differences there might be based on the nursing home facility's for-or-non-profit status, so we did some back-of-the-envelope analysis. Here's what we found.

New York Nursing Home Beds and Number of COVID-19 Deaths, For-Profit vs Non-Profit Facilities

This first chart simply tallies up the number of beds and COVID deaths at both types of nursing home facilities that reported these deaths during the pandemic. In it, we see the share of beds and deaths by facility type are almost identical. That result indicates the type of facility in which nursing home residents died was not a significant factor for those that died from COVID-19.

But we did find a notable difference in the data, which is revealed in the next chart.

New York Nursing Home Beds and Number of COVID-19 Deaths, For-Profit vs Non-Profit Facilities

Here, we find that one-in-three for-profit nursing home residents were transferred out of their facility before they died. Meanwhile, one-in-four nursing home residents who lived in a non-profit facility were transferred out of the facility before they died from COVID-19.

The task force's report doesn't specifically identify that difference, but its data tables suggest the level of staffing at each type of facility is a factor. It's not well quantified, but the report uses "stars" to indicate staffing levels at individual facilties, with lower number of stars indicating lower relative staffing levels. Here, we find both for-profit nursing homes to make up the majority of low star ratings and corresponding higher levels of transferred patients, which generally accounts for the difference.


New York State Bar Association. Report and Recommendations of the Task Force on Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care. [PDF Document]. 15 June 2021.