Dying Too Soon: In Northern Virginia, The Risk of Dying Before Age 75 Depends on Race, Ethnicity, and Address
In Northern Virginia, your chances for reaching age 75 depend largely on your race and ethnicity and where you live, according to this report by the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) commissioned by the Northern Virginia Health Foundation (NVHF). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the report found, these factors had an even greater impact on whether people lived or died.
The report, Dying Too Soon offers a unique look at how death rates vary across Northern Virginia, focusing on two time periods: 2015 to 2019, before the pandemic struck, and 2020 to 2021, at the height of the pandemic. Statistics are reported for counties, legislative districts, and census tracts, and are compared across racial and ethnic populations, showing the higher health risks that people of color face.
What the Study Found
Nearly two thirds of all the premature deaths that occurred in Northern Virginia between 2015 and 2019 could have been prevented.
Premature death rates at the census-tract level varied more than six-fold across the region. For example, premature death rates were as low as 73.1 deaths per 100,000 in the South Run area of Fairfax County, but as high as 573.3 deaths per 100,000 in the Dumfries areas of Prince William County.
Census tracts with the highest premature death rates were clustered in the following areas: Manassas and southern Prince William County; Leesburg and Sterling in Loudoun County; Annandale/Springfield, Herndon/Centreville, Seven Corners/Bailey’s Crossroads, and Route 1 areas of Fairfax County; the Shirley Highway (I-395) corridor; southern Arlington County; and downtown Alexandria.
The pandemic worsened health inequities
Death rates in Northern Virginia also varied by race and ethnicity. Across Northern Virginia, Black residents were 44% more likely to die before age 75 than their white counterparts, and in some jurisdictions this disparity was more pronounced. In Arlington and Alexandria counties, for instance, Black populations were 116% and 117% more likely to die before age 75.
Death rates from COVID-19 were much higher in Hispanic and Black populations (99.3 and 66.1 deaths per 100,000, respectively) than in the Asian and white populations (40.4 and 36.6 deaths per 100,000, respectively).
COVID-19 death rates across Northern Virginia varied as much as two-fold within the same racial-ethnic group, depending on where people lived. People of color residing in vulnerable neighborhoods were even more dramatically impacted by the pandemic. The Hispanic residents of Prince William County were almost six times more likely to die from COVID-19 (164.5 deaths per 100,000) compared to white residents in Alexandria (28.5 deaths per 100,000).
By identifying precise census tracts that are most threatened by health issues and premature death, the researchers hope this report raises awareness of health inequities in Northern Virginia and helps policymakers, health departments and community partners better target their investments in neighborhoods. The report outlines six policy recommendations to reduce health inequities:
Alert the public of health inequities in the region.
Prioritize the social determinants of health.
Prioritize the “islands of disadvantage”.
Improve health care access and quality.
Strengthen the public health infrastructure and preparedness.
Address the legacy of systemic racism.