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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Autistic People Have Higher COVID Death Rates

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters.  And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all. 

Alistair MacDonald and  Caitlin Ostroff at WSJ:
A higher Covid-19 death rate among people with autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual development disorders has sparked a lobbying effort by family members and caregivers to persuade states to give priority to the group in vaccine rollouts.

People with such disorders, who account for one in 50 Americans, are on average more than twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as the wider U.S. population, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from 12 states. The analysis mirrors similar, recent studies. One study, conducted by nonprofit organization FAIR Health, found the group’s death rate is higher than many others already widely recognized as particularly vulnerable to the disease.
Some congregate care facilities accommodate people with intellectual development disorders, but the large majority of people with such disorders live in more informal facilities or family homes, said Kristyn Roth, an executive at the Autism Society of America, a nonprofit that has been lobbying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others for priority for vaccines.

Across states, people with such disabilities are likely dying at a greater rate than the wider population because they suffer higher incidences of obesity, immune disorders, respiratory illnesses and other conditions that have led to higher death rates during the pandemic, health experts say. Even without the virus, this community’s death rate is typically higher than the general population in any year, due to these and other health issues, as well as high suicide rates for people with autism.

But Covid-19 has added another layer of fatalities.

According to an analysis of claims data for privately insured patients conducted by FAIR Health, people with intellectual development disorders died at a higher rate than those with conditions well known to contribute to higher Covid-19 death rates, such as leukemia, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.

A separate October study of data from eight U.S. states by researchers at Syracuse University, Temple University and elsewhere found that 12.3% of adults with these disabilities died from Covid-19 infection, compared with 6.7% of the general public in these states.

Scott D. Landes, who has studied the effects of Covid-19 on people with disabilities at Syracuse, said he and other researchers want to determine how much the higher death rate is related to the difficulties some people with intellectual development disorders have communicating with medical professionals.

“Historically, this is a population that has not achieved as good a care and is not as well understood by the medical community,” he said.

One of the virus’s victims from the Medford [NY] home was Stuart Darch, a 72-year-old autistic man who suffered from anxiety and had difficulty communicating, Mr. Morgan said. He was taken to Long Island Community Hospital in late March. A nurse told his niece, Alexandra Noyes, that he was agitated and had shallow breathing.