In These Aging Places, Coronavirus Is a Huge Threat

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(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The coronavirus is much, much more dangerous for the elderly than the young. A epidemiological study released several weeks ago by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention that found an overall Covid-19 case-fatality rate of 2.3% put the rate at 3.6% for those 60 to 69, 8% for those 70 to 79, and 14.8% 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.

In These Aging Places, Coronavirus Is a Huge Threat

Japan has the highest share of 65-plussers on the planet: 27.6% of its population in 2018, according the World Bank. All the other countries where the percentage is above 20% are in Europe, with Italy leading the way at 22.8%. 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%, 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.

Among wealthy countries, the U.S. population share of those 65 and older is on the low end: 15.8% 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% and 20.5%. Due in part to a big exodus of younger residents both before and after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico (not on the map below) is even higher, at 20.7%. Utah has the lowest share, at 11.1%.

In These Aging Places, Coronavirus Is a Huge Threat

It’s when you break it down by county that the really big differences appear. Every county that isn’t in the lightest blue in the map below has a 65-plus population of 20% or more.

In These Aging Places, Coronavirus Is a Huge Threat

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% from 2014-2018, a period I used in the above chart because single-year data for many smaller counties isn’t reliable, and 57.6% 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 the maps do indicate an imbalance of health-care resources and likely severity of coronavirus consequences. Some of these place are going to really need help.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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