Scott Landes is an associate professor of sociology and O’Hanley Faculty Scholar at Syracuse University. Informed by his interest in medical sociology, aging and the life course, and disability theory, the majority of his research focuses on health and mortality trends across the life course for those with intellectual and developmental disability, and for veterans. Together with Dr. Margaret Turk from Upstate Medical University, he had spent the past 2 years focused on COVID-19 outcomes among people with intellectual and developmental disability.
The COVID-19 Burden Has Been Greater Among People With Intellectual and Developmental Disability
Early in the pandemic we published a report warning that the COVID-19 burden may be greater among people with intellectual and developmental disability. Our concern was based on knowledge that people with these disabilities often experience barriers to receiving quality medical care, frequently live in congregate care settings in which it is difficult to achieve adequate social distancing, and had high rates of death from respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and pneumonitis pre-pandemic.
Our recent study of 2020 US death certificate data provides evidence that this was the case. During the first year of the pandemic, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death among people without an intellectual or developmental disability reported on their death certificate. The story was quite different among people who had an intellectual or developmental disability reported on their death certificate. COVID-19 was the leading cause of death among those with intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. In addition, compared to people without an intellectual or developmental disability, the rate of death from COVID-19 as opposed to all other causes of death was 1.6 times higher for people with intellectual disability, 1.5 times higher for people with cerebral palsy, and 2.1 times higher for people with Down syndrome.
There is a well-documented history in the US history of marginalizing people with intellectual and developmental disability. Our hope is that we will not add to that history, but will take the necessary steps to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disability are provided the opportunity to live and thrive, even in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.