Life expectancy across New York State dropped three years in 2020 — the steepest drop of all the states in the nation — largely due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said Tuesday.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that New Yorkers born in 2020 can expect to live 77.7 years. That’s down from 80.7 in 2019.
The CDC said life expectancy dropped for all states and Washington, D.C., between 2019 and 2020 “mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increases in unintentional injuries (mainly drug overdose deaths).”
Hawaii ranked No. 1 with an overall life expectancy of 80.7, followed by Washington state with 79.2. Mississippi ranked last with an overall life expectancy of 71.9.
In New York, which ranked No. 15, women fared better than men, with a life expectancy of 80.7 compared with 74.8, the report said.
In 2019, New York ranked No. 3 in the country, following Hawaii and California.
“I don’t think anybody should panic,” said Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, vice president and chief public and community health officer at Catholic Health, about the drop in life expectancy. “We know that 2020 was a difficult year. New York was hit first and hardest.”
The state was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 and more than 73,000 New Yorkers have died from the disease since then, according to the CDC.
Experts said there are multiple factors that account for life expectancy, and the report focuses on averages and populations, not individuals.
According to the CDC, life expectancy at birth represents “the number of years that a group of infants would live if the group was to experience, throughout life, the age-specific death rates present in the year of birth.”
“We all are aware of our own individual health but we also have to be aware of the health of the overall population,” said Martine Hackett, director of public health programs at Hofstra University. “Education, income, health insurance, housing — all those things play a role.”
The pandemic created new stress for people around changes in housing and jobs, she noted, as well as highlighting existing health issues that were not being treated as people stayed home, away from medical care, because they were fearful of contracting COVID-19.
“We have to think about this on a population level in terms of, ‘What are the conditions that people live in that contribute to their health outcomes?’” Hackett said.
Dr. Peter Silver, chief quality officer and associate chief medical officer at Northwell Health, said it’s also important to look at the fatalities categorized as “unintentional deaths.”
“Deaths due to accidents and drug overdoses were up and that was probably brought on by the pandemic and the stress associated with it,” Silver said. “The scourge of firearm violence also increased in 2020.”
Silver pointed out that while the pandemic has continued since those early days of 2020, the incidents of severe illness, hospitalization and death have decreased thanks to vaccines, therapeutics and other treatments.
“Another question that we still haven’t answered is what the impact of long COVID will be,” Silver said. “We know there are people who were hospitalized in 2020 and 2021 who are still sick.”
Silver said while health care in New York State is “second to none,” it needs to be made more accessible.
According to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, in 2019, overall life expectancy was 85.7 for the Asian population, 82.2 for the Latino population, 78.9 for the white population, 75.3 for the Black population and 73.1 for the American Indian and Alaska Native population.
“We have to make sure that we deliver good health care to all of our communities, including our disadvantaged communities and our communities of color,” he said, “because we know that these mortality statistics disproportionately affect those communities of color.”
Eisenstein, the former Nassau County health commissioner, said New Yorkers should not be discouraged by the life expectancy data. He pointed out many people focused on exercise and eating healthier during the pandemic.
“Everybody can still take measures to live longer and healthier by getting cancer screenings and vaccinated,” he said. “There are so many things people can do to change their own risk.”