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USF research shows impact of lives lost from coronavirus

Florida ranked ninth in the country for years of life lost.

More than 200,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S., the largest death toll of any country. Researchers from the University of South Florida set out to study the overall impact of those deaths.

A study published this month in the Journal of Public Health explores “years of life lost" during the coronavirus pandemic. The author of the study, Troy Quast, a USF professor of health economics in the College of Public Health, found that for every person who died after contracting COVID-19, nearly 10 years of life had been lost on average.

Quast, who studied data from February until July when 130,000 people had died, found that about 1.2 million years of life were lost in that period. If those trends continued until today, as many as 2 million years may now be lost.

“In a nutshell this says people are dying sooner than they would have otherwise," he said.

Quast examined data from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and used life expectancies based on age and gender from the U.S. Social Security Administration and population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It shows that it wasn’t as if it was entirely individuals who are at the end of their life,” Quast said.

Measuring deaths by “years of life lost” determines the age in which people die and is a more “insightful measure” than the death count public health agencies use to track deaths during the pandemic, he said. The “years of life lost” metric is often used to determine the effects of disease, drug misuse and suicide. For the coronavirus, Quast said the metric is appropriate because of the wide range in ages in those who have died.

If people were dying from normal factors, the years of life lost would be close to zero.

“Individuals dying of COVID-19 are not just limited to those who are especially old,” Quast said. “What is the loss of those who died?”

The 1.2 million years of life lost is a conservative estimate as well, Quast said, to control for possible pre-existing health issues and other underlying factors that are common among those who died from COVID-19. Researchers reduced life expectancy by 25 percent.

At the time of USF study, Florida had logged just over 4,000 deaths, which Quast estimated to be about 39,000 years of life lost. Florida ranked ninth in the country for years of life lost.

On Friday, Florida surpassed 14,000 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

The states with the highest years of life lost mostly align with those that have had the highest total deaths, but Quast said there can be some variation. Texas had fewer deaths than Florida at the point in the study, but it had more years lost because the deaths skewed younger.

Hard hit regions with younger populations experienced more years of life lost overall, the study found. New York City, once the epicenter of the country’s pandemic, accounted for one-sixth of the nation’s years of life lost.

“Death is such an extreme outcome of COVID-19,” Quast said. “The effects are wide ranging from hospitalization to long-term health effects. We don’t want this to be the only measure, just one of many aspects that should be looked into.”

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