Our ongoing Color of Coronavirus project monitors how and where COVID-19 mortality is inequitably impacting certain communities—to guide policy and community responses. Last week, the United States’ COVID-19 death toll reached half a million. We have documented the race and ethnicity for 94% of these cumulative deaths in the United States.
Even as vaccine distribution ramps up across the U.S., the virus’ recent toll has been devastating for all groups. Our latest update shows death tolls accelerating in the last four weeks compared to the prior period (mostly January 2021), which had also notched record losses until this update exceeded them.
The last four weeks have yielded the highest number of new deaths since the start of the pandemic for all groups except Black and Pacific Islander Americans, for whom it was the second most deadly stretch. (Black Americans suffered the greatest losses in the month of April 2020—especially in cities where the pandemic first raged—while Pacific Islanders saw their highest death toll in our Feb. 2 update.)
Note that March 3 ends the third deadliest four-week period since the beginning of the pandemic according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project. (The first and second deadliest periods were in January and December, respectively.) Thus, it is likely that some of the apparent increase in deaths reflected below come from reclassification of deaths by race and ethnicity. In fact, over the last four weeks the number of deaths with an unknown race or ethnicity has decreased by more than 13,000.
In 2021, we switched to the latest population estimates for denominators used to calculate rates and percentages, and began new trend lines for rates dating from Dec. 8, 2020. Indigenous and Black Americans continue to suffer the highest actual rates of loss, followed closely by Pacific Islanders. (The new rates should not be directly compared to our prior data. To examine trends during 2020, we recommend viewing our December update or 2020 year-in-review.)
As with prior releases, we have also adjusted these mortality rates for differences in the age distribution of populations (which differ across race groups and states), a common and important tool that health researchers use to compare diseases that affect age groups differently. At the national level, this results in even larger documented mortality disparities—Pacific Islander, Latino, Indigenous and Black Americans all have a COVID-19 death rate of double or more that of White and Asian Americans, who experience the lowest age-adjusted rates.
Our team at APM Research Lab has independently compiled these death statistics, beginning in early April 2020. (Learn more about how.) The result is the most robust and up-to-date portrait of COVID-19 mortality by race available anywhere, with a focus on disproportionate deaths.
See our work cited in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Forbes, CNN, NBC News, Vox, JAMA, Politico, Newsweek, Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, The Hill, the New York Times and numerous other outlets.
KEY FINDINGS (from data through March 2):
These are the documented, nationwide actual mortality impacts from COVID-19 data (aggregated from all available U.S. states and the District of Columbia) for all race groups since the start of the pandemic.
1 in 390 Indigenous Americans has died (or 256.0 deaths per 100,000)
1 in 555 Black Americans has died (or 179.8 deaths per 100,000)
1 in 565 Pacific Islander Americans has died (or 176.6 deaths per 100,000)
1 in 665 White Americans has died (or 150.2 deaths per 100,000)
1 in 680 Latino Americans has died (or 147.3 deaths per 100,000)
1 in 1,040 Asian Americans has died (or 96.0 deaths per 100,000)
Indigenous Americans have the highest actual COVID-19 mortality rates nationwide—about 2.7 times as high as the rate for Asians, who have the lowest actual rates. Indigenous people have also seen their mortality rate accelerate the fastest in the past four weeks.
Adjusting the data for age differences in race groups widens the gap in the overall mortality rates between all other groups compared to White and Asian Americans, who have the lowest age-adjusted rates. The Indigenous population has the highest age-adjusted mortality rate, followed by Pacific Islander, Latino and Black residents, as shown in the graph below. (A fuller discussion of our indirectly age-adjusted rates follows.)
Of the more than 520,000 cumulative U.S. deaths catalogued in this Color of Coronavirus update, these are the numbers of lives lost by group: Asian (17,747), Black (73,236), Indigenous (5,477), Latino (89,071), Pacific Islander (830) and White Americans (299,915). Additionally, 10,358 deaths are recorded as “other” race (and, due to uneven state-level reporting, include more Indigenous and Pacific Islander people, as well as multiracial individuals). Another 28,787 deaths that have occurred currently have an unknown race, a decline of more than 13,000 since our last update.