The coronavirus is much, much more dangerous for the elderly than the young. A epidemiological study released several weeks ago by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention that found an overall COVID-19 case-fatality rate of 2.3 per cent put the rate at per cent for those 60 to 69, 8 per cent for those 70 to 79, and 14.8 per cent for those 80 and older.
That obviously has implications for individuals as they assess the risks they face from COVID-19. It also matters for governments — because some places have a lot more old people than others.
Japan has the highest share of 65-plussers on the planet: 27.6 per cent of its population in 2018, according the World Bank. All the other countries where the percentage is above 20 per cent are in Europe, with Italy leading the way at 22.8 per cent. Italy is also the country with the second-most COVID-19 cases and deaths after China. That’s probably not a coincidence.
It’s not as if having a younger population will spare a country from major coronavirus trouble: Iran’s 65-plus share is just 6.2 per cent, yet it seems overwhelmed by the disease. Still, it’s an indication that European countries with well-regarded universal health-care systems will nonetheless face huge challenges as the disease spreads, and that nations in Africa and South Asia that are usually seen as especially vulnerable because of poverty and inadequate medical care may stand a chance of weathering this pandemic better than some rich countries do.
Maine and Florida vulnerable in the US
Among wealthy countries, the US population share of those 65 and older is on the low end: 15.8 per cent in 2018. Still, there are states with age profiles that look more like Europe’s, with Maine and Florida leading the way at 20.6 per cent and 20.5 per cent. Due in part to a big exodus of younger residents both before and after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is even higher, at 20.7 per cent. Utah has the lowest share, at 11.1 per cent.
It’s when you break it down by county that the really big differences appear.
The county with the nation’s highest senior-citizen share is Sumter County, Florida, home of the fast-growing retirement community, The Villages. Its 65-and-older percentage was 55.6 per cent from 2014-2018, and 57.6 per cent in 2018. That’s an estimated 74,162 people 65-and-older in a county with 277 acute-care hospital beds.
Apart from other retirement destinations in the South and Southwest, most of the old-skewing counties are in rural areas, which tend to have inadequate access to health care. On the positive side, the virus will probably take longer to get to such areas. Still this do indicate an imbalance of health-care resources and likely severity of coronavirus consequences. Some of these place are going to really need help.
Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business.