With coronavirus cases rising exponentially in pockets of contagion throughout the country, we’re seeing that all kinds of social factors are swaying infection rates and outcomes. Early data indicates that race might play a role, as does one’s age, of course, and occupation (it is easier to social distance when one can remain at home throughout the workweek). Another such factor appears to be gender.
The New York Times reports that in New York City — where a staggering 731 people died of the coronavirus on Tuesday and thousands more have tested positive — men are dying at nearly twice the rate of women. The Times’ analysis of city Health Department numbers reveals that there have been 43 coronavirus-related deaths for every 100,000 men in the city and 23 for every 100,000 women. Men are experiencing higher rates of infection too. There are 932 cases for every 100,000 men compared with 712 for every 100,000 women, and men are also more likely to be hospitalized.
A spokesperson for the city’s Health Department, Michael Lanza, confirmed to the Times that the rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are higher among men, but he provided no further comment. Doctors working in hospitals across the city, however, did, telling the Times that the gender disparity they’re seeing is obvious. Hani Sbitany, a surgeon at Mount Sinai Health Systems who’s been treating COVID-19 patients in Brooklyn, told the Times, “I’m in the emergency room, and it’s remarkable — I’d estimate that 80 percent of the patients being brought in are men,” adding that most of these patients are also middle-aged or over 60. Joseph Lowry, a palliative-care doctor at NYU Langone Health, said he’s observing that at least two-thirds of intubated coronavirus cases are men.
New York is not alone in witnessing this trend: It’s been noted in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the United States as well. California reported that 7,296 men have tested positive for COVID-19, compared to 6,740 women. The Guardian reports that in the six countries that kept data on the gender of patients, four — China, France, Italy, and South Korea — reported death rates among men that were 50 percent higher than those among women. According to the Times, China, which gathered some of the most in-depth data available on the virus, reported a 2.8 fatality rate among men, compared to 1.7 among women.
Given that this appears to be a genuine phenomenon, what could be its cause? Researchers have thus far proposed a few hypotheses, but we still don’t know much. According to the Times, behavior is one possible explanation. Smoking rates among men are much higher, for instance, and weaken the lungs, which the coronavirus then aggressively targets. Some scientists have suggested that women have stronger immune systems. Women also tend to live longer and develop certain risk factors for severe COVID-19 cases — like hypertension and heart disease — later in life than men.