Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
Visitors look over a section of “In America: Remember,” an art installation that features flags representing every death from covid-19 in the United States, on the Mall on Sept. 24. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)

Life expectancy at birth fell to 77 years in 2020, a continued slide in a reliable gauge of Americans’ health as the coronavirus pandemic surged through the country, killing more than 350,000 people, the government reported Wednesday.

The average expected life span declined 1.8 years over 2019. That was up from July, when the Biden administration reported provisional results for 2020 that showed a 1.5-year drop.

Death rates rose for every age group except children ages 1 to 14, with covid-19 becoming the third-leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics. The disease caused by the coronavirus was the underlying cause of death for 350,831 people last year — 10.4 percent of the 3,383,729 deaths recorded.

Life expectancy had been ticking down in recent years, a troubling trend driven by drug overdose deaths and suicides. But the pandemic has caused much larger declines. The 1.8-year drop was the largest reduction in a single year in more than 75 years.

Suicide fell from the top 10 causes of death in 2020, replaced by covid-19. The other nine killers of Americans remained the same, though in some cases they changed order. The top 10 are: heart disease, cancer, covid-19, unintentional injuries, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease.

Together, they accounted for 74.1 percent of all deaths in the United States.

The infant mortality rate dropped 2.9 percent to a record low of 541.9 per 100,000 live births.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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