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HEALTH NOTES: People of Color Suffer Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

September 03, 2020

A pair of studies released recently show how Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaskan Native people in the United States continue to suffer an outsized share of sickness and death in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This new research — including heightened impacts to workers of color — should draw additional attention to the many systemic issues influencing disparities in the disease’s effects.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the percentage of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 who are Black exceeded the percentage of the Black population in all 12 states surveyed over a two-month period ending June 24. For example, in Ohio, Black people hospitalized with COVID-19 made up 31.8 percent of that state’s hospitalizations for the disease, far exceeding the 13 percent share of the state’s population who are Black.

Conversely, white COVID-19 patients represented a substantially smaller share of the white portion of the population in all 12 states in the study. For example, in Minnesota, patients with COVID-19 who are white made up 52.9 percent of the state’s hospitalizations even though white people comprise 84.1 percent of the state.

Only 12 of the country’s 50 states provided consistent race/ethnicity data on hospitalizations during the period under study, underlining the need for more inclusive and detailed reporting to address the impact of these disparities in health outcomes.

Of the 11 states reporting hospitalizations of Hispanic patients, the proportion of COVID-19 hospitalizations was higher than the Hispanic share of the population in 10 of the states. This disparity was most prominent in Virginia, where Hispanic individuals make up 9.6 percent of the state’s population but accounted for 36.2 percent of all COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Similar results were found among American Indian and Alaskan Native populations, such as in Arizona, where indigenous people account for 4 percent of the population but made up 15.7 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The proportion of hospitalizations by individuals identifying as Asian did not follow this pattern, amounting to a lower percentage of hospitalizations than the proportion of the overall Asian-identifying population in six of 10 states that reported this data. For example, Massachusetts’ 7 percent Asian-identifying population made up 4 percent of the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study examining outbreaks of COVID-19 from March to June in Utah workplaces. They reported that workers who identified as Hispanic, Black, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, two or more races, or any race other than white accounted for 73 percent of cases even though the totality of all people who identify as such comprise only 24 percent of all workers in the state.

“People of color are significantly less likely to have work that can be done remotely during this pandemic,” said Dr. Carolyn M. Mazure, Director of Women’s Health Research at Yale. “The greater risk this entails is one of the many reasons why people of color are suffering greater negative outcomes of this disease, including greater health risks stemming from decades of disparity in access to equitable resources including health care. As we confront COVID-19, we must remedy the systemic inequities that continue to exist in our society.”

Submitted by Rick Harrison on September 02, 2020