The Prevalence of Underlying Health Conditions Among COVID-19 Deaths

An Applied Biostatistician’s Perspective

Economic Consulting

May 5, 2020

New York City

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic.1 A month later, a total of 1,610,909 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 99,690 deaths were reported worldwide.2 These figures can be difficult to comprehend as a health crisis of this magnitude and significance is unprecedented. It is even more challenging to understand how these numbers relate to oneself: What is my risk? How likely am I to experience a severe case that results in death?

Reports from China, Italy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that risk factors for severe disease include advanced age and the presence of at least one of several underlying health conditions.3,4,5 To better understand the relationship of these risk factors to COVID-19 deaths, we gathered and analyzed data published by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene describing underlying health conditions among COVID-19 deaths in New York City.

As states look to the future and consider reopening local economies, these findings may be valuable for politicians, lawmakers and businesses’ planning and decision-making. Understanding which groups of people are most at risk during this pandemic may be helpful in the transition to more targeted public health care guidelines, allowing part of society to return to “normal.


1: World Health Organization. WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19—11 March 2020. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2020.

2: World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation report – 82. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2020.

3: Guan WJ, Ni ZY, Hu Y, et al. Clinical characteristics of coronavirus disease 2019 in China.

4: COVID-19 Surveillance Group. Characteristics of COVID-19 patients dying in Italy: report based on available data on March 20th, 2020. Rome, Italy: Instituto Superiore Di Sanita; 2020.

5: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preliminary Estimates of the Prevalence of Selected Underlying Health Conditions Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 — United States, February 12–March 28, 2020.

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