Who Is Dying, and Why?

Our nineteenth COVID-19 white paper is, “Who Is Dying, and Why?” by Rajiv Sethi, Divya Siddarth, Nia Johnson, Brandon Terry, Julie Seager, Mary Travis Bassett, and Meredith Rosenthal.


It is commonly asserted, with some justification, that viruses do not recognize social boundaries. And yet the statistics on the demographics of those afflicted and felled by Covid-19 show startling disparities by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status that emerged early in the US epidemic. This paper documents and considers the reasons for this. Since the disease is especially deadly for the elderly, it is important to keep in mind that different demographic groups have very different age distributions. As a result, inferences from data that are not age-adjusted must be made with great care. With this in mind, we explore some of the particularities of disparities across groups, including intersections between race-ethnicity and socioeconomic status. We consider the composition of the essential workforce, and of facilities such as prisons, detention centers, long-term care establishments, and specific industrial sites such as meatpacking plants that have been prominent loci for the spread of disease. Finally, we address the question of how policy responses can actively work to mitigate these disparities.