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Dec. 5, 2021

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Who was hit hardest in spike in Washington COVID deaths in August?

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COVID-19 claimed larger shares of men, whites and younger people in Washington state as it more than doubled its overall death toll in August 2021 compared with the same month last year.

In August 2020, when there were no vaccines, 304 people died of COVID-19.

Fast forward to August 2021 when 653 died of the disease caused by the coronavirus.

A total of 5,877 Washington residents died in August 2021 of all causes, according to the state’s preliminary count. Deaths from COVID-19 made up 11.1 percent of those deaths. That compares with 5,227 total deaths in August 2020 when 5.8 percent were from COVID.

That’s according to a review conducted by The News Tribune of data provided by the state Department of Health on Thursday.

Washington state’s data came with caveats, including that 2021 totals are preliminary.

COVID-19 death data from August 2021 was compared with August 2020. August 2020 was about halfway between the arrival of the pandemic in Washington state and when vaccinations first became available in the state.

August 2021 was when the fifth wave was moving into full swing, with the 14-day average cases per day jumping from 31 on July 8 to 332 by the end of August, and compared with 45 at the end of August 2020.

Out of the 653 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in August 2021, 71.5 percent were in unvaccinated people and 4.7 percent were in partially vaccinated people. The rest, 23.7 percent, were in fully vaccinated people.

Age

The average age of people dying from COVID-19 is dropping in Washington. In August 2020, before vaccinations became available, 49.7 percent of deaths were in people age 80 and older. A year later, that percentage had dropped to 28.8 percent.

Older people, if unvaccinated, still remain more vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID-19 compared with younger people. The vaccination rate for people 65 and older is currently at 81.6 percent in Washington.

Deaths in the 35-64 age groups showed the most dramatic proportional increase. People age 50-64 nearly doubled their percentage from 13.2 percent of COVID-19 deaths to 25.1 percent. The number of deaths more than doubled in the 65-79 category but remained relatively unchanged as a percentage given the increases in other age brackets.

Deaths in the 20-34 age group made up 2.8 percent in August 2021 with 18 deaths, which could include those from younger age categories. Breakouts of other death data for those younger than 20 were not provided by DOH, as amounts less than 10 cases are not publicly reported as per the department’s privacy guidelines to avoid any potential identification of specific cases. In those instances, categories are combined.

That age group’s totals did not register large enough to be included in the 2020 data, and the increase this year reflects what’s been seen on a larger scale nationwide.

In an analysis released Friday by The New York Times, every age group under 55 had its highest death toll of the pandemic in August.

Sex

Out of the 653 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in August 2021, 59 percent were men. That’s compared with 51.3 percent of the 304 COVID-19 deaths in August 2020 being among men.

Men make up 50.1 percent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census.

Race and Ethnicity

In racial demographics, the percentages of Black and Hispanic deaths were half what they were in August 2020, though the number of deaths remained about the same.

That’s because deaths, the vast majority among whites, increased.

White deaths jumped both in totals and percentages. going from 207 deaths (68.1 percent) in August 2020 to 509 (77.9 percent) in the same period. COVID-19 deaths of Asians more than doubled but percentage wise remained relatively unchanged year over year at 4.1 percent.

Numbers for American Indian/Alaska Native, multiracial and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander were too small (less than 10) to allow reporting by the DOH for 2020, but accounted for a combined 51 deaths, or 7.8 percent, reported in August 2021.

Delta’s impact

One factor to consider in the August 2021 data is that the Delta variant has been far more contagious than last year’s strain, casting a wider net to sicken everyone, particularly those unvaccinated, even without pre-existing conditions.

Couple that with the state’s reopening in July and relaxation of mask mandates, at least temporarily, and it all helped set the stage for August’s results.

While underlying medical conditions at the start of the pandemic were a factor in 90 percent or more of COVID fatalities focused on older victims, it’s becoming less of a factor now with the rise in younger ages dying.

In Pierce County, the percentage of COVID deaths involving those with underlying conditions is now at 67.3 percent, down from 86.3 percent in January.

In its latest report on breakthrough cases issued Sept. 29, DOH noted that unvaccinated 12- to 34-year-olds at this point were “26 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated,” in the same age group.

Those who remained unvaccinated at age 65 and older are now “9 times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated 65+ year-olds,” according to DOH.

DOH acknowledged that as vaccinations rise, the percentage of cases and in some instances deaths among the vaccinated ultimately would increase as the number of cases overall declined.

“Although COVID-19 vaccines work well to prevent severe illness and death among those exposed to the virus, a small percentage of fully vaccinated people will still get COVID-19. Even highly effective vaccines cannot prevent all infections,” the DOH said in its Sept. 29 report.

It added, “If the exposure to COVID-19 stays the same, as more individuals are vaccinated, more cases, hospitalizations, and deaths will be in vaccinated individuals, as they will continue to make up more and more of the population. For example, if 100 percent of the population was vaccinated, 100 percent of cases would be among vaccinated people.”

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