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Opinion
Justin Fox

Coronavirus Deaths by Age: How It’s Like (and Not Like) Other Disease

Dismissing Covid-19 as something that only endangers those who were going to die soon anyway doesn’t make a lot of statistical sense.

There’s a person behind every number.

There’s a person behind every number.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Covid-19 is hard on the elderly, with those 65 and older accounting for 80% of the U.S. deaths from the disease for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released demographic data. But this is true of most illnesses: In 2018, 78% of all U.S. deaths from internal causes (that is, excluding accidents, murders, overdoses and the like) were among those 65 and older.

Assessing the risks posed by Covid-19 has become a morbid global pastime. So has weighing them against the risks posed by other things like seasonal influenza or car accidents or drowning in the pool. A key element in many of these comparisons is the age distribution of the risk. The coronavirus mostly kills people with a limited number of years ahead of them, some have reasoned, so its potential death toll should be discounted relative to that of an ailment or other risk that has a greater effect on the young.