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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The giant surge of coronavirus cases over the fall and winter hit white Americans disproportionately hard, narrowing the racial disparities in COVID deaths.

Yes, but: When age is factored in, Americans of color still have a significantly higher death rate than white Americans, meaning people of color are dying at younger ages.

The big picture: The virus slammed the Midwest last fall, and then eventually spread rapidly across the entire country.

  • The Midwest has a higher white population than regions hit earlier on in the pandemic, particularly the South and the Sunbelt.
  • For the first time during the pandemic, counties with the highest white populations saw the most deaths, according to an analysis done by Jorge Caballero, a clinical instructor of anesthesia at the Stanford School of Medicine.
Reproduced from APM Research Lab; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, but: White Americans have a lower age-adjusted death rate than any other racial or ethnic group besides Asian Americans, per APM Research Lab.

  • The median age of white Americans is significantly higher than Black or Hispanic Americans, putting them at disproportionate risk of COVID based on age alone.
  • But other factors — like underlying health conditions and an increased risk of exposure — put younger people of color at a higher risk of death.
  • Latino Americans, for example, have about the same death rate as white Americans before age is taken into account. But when adjusted for age, the Latino death rate is 2.4 times higher.

Between the lines: Economically vulnerable counties have higher COVID death rates generally than those that are more well-off, according to a recent analysis by the Economic Innovation Group.

  • And in the most economically distressed counties, the average coronavirus morality rate varies based on the racial composition of the county, the analysis found.
  • In those with higher-than-average shares of Hispanics, the death rate is 210.9 deaths per 100,000 people, and for those with a higher share of Black residents the death rate is 201.2. But in distressed counties with a higher-than-average share of white residents, the death rate is 145.5.

What we're watching: Racial disparities have already appeared in the vaccination effort, with communities of color initially falling behind.

  • If these disparities persist, particularly as new variants of the virus become more prevalent in the U.S., the gap between different racial groups' death rate will likely widen in the coming months.

Go deeper

Fauci: Americans shouldn't let down their guard about virus variants

President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, tells "Axios on HBO" that despite the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, emerging variants could pose a "stumbling block" and Americans shouldn't become complacent.

Driving the news: The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also shared his thoughts on contemplating his own mortality, working with Biden, and talking to teachers about returning to school before everyone's been vaccinated.

Feb 12, 2021 - Health

CDC releases guidelines on safely reopening schools

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

School reopenings should be contingent on community transmission rates and should be a priority over restaurants and other nonessential businesses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday.

Why it matters: America's educators have been calling on the health agency to issue clear and useful guidance for schools, following mixed signals sent by the Trump administration last year.

Fauci says he feels for single people on Valentine's Day 2021

President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, expressed sympathy for single people trying to enjoy Valentine's Day during the pandemic in an interview with "Axios on HBO," saying it would be stressful and frustrating to date while social distancing and trying to stay safe.

  • Fauci said he and his wife planned a quiet Valentine's Day dinner at home alone, but he empathized: "It would be really frustrating to essentially semi-isolate yourself at a time when you're trying to explore social interactions with people. That leads to a considerable amount of stress and maybe even depression on the part of some people."