- Researchers report that the death rate from COVID-19 is significantly higher in Black, Native American, and Latino communities than other groups.
- They say some factors are underlying medical conditions, unequal access to healthcare services, and jobs that require employees to work closely with the public.
- Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to improve medical services, housing, and job opportunities for Communities of Color.
There’s more evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic has widened racial and ethnic disparities.
A study released this week in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that the pandemic has killed more Black, Native American, and Latino people than other groups in the United States.
A team of researchers headed by investigators from the National Cancer Institute looked at data from March 2020 to December 2020. They examined death certificate information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and estimated death projections from the Census Bureau.
They then calculated the estimated number of excess deaths caused directly and indirectly by COVID-19.
Researchers said there were 477,200 excess deaths during that time period. They also concluded 74 percent of those deaths were attributed to COVID-19.
Researchers wrote that after standardizing the statistics for age, they found that the excess deaths for these communities per 100,000 people were more than double those for white and Asian communities.
They wrote that deaths not related to COVID-19 also disproportionately affected Black, Native American, and Latino people.
Researchers concluded that the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on these communities has been “devastating and highlights the urgent need to address long-standing structural inequities.”
Dr. Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist and dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, said the disparities outlined in the study are not surprising.
“It’s really sad and unfortunate,” Galea told Healthline. “The deck was stacked against people who were not able to protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19.”
“I think it is in part due to the healthcare system or lack of access, but I think it’s more due to underlying social conditions,” he explained. “People of Color who have fewer family assets are often in jobs that do not afford opportunities for social distancing, hybrid, or remote work.”
“Historically, they have underlying morbidities, like high blood pressure and diabetes, which then results in more severe COVID-19,” he added.
Dr. Lisa Cooper, a professor of equity in health and healthcare at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, agreed the results were not surprising, but she said the study did highlight some important points.
“What people need to see is that this is only really magnifying a situation that’s been very long-standing,” Cooper told Healthline.
“It really is a wake-up call to the fact that we have a huge number of people who, based on years of systemic injustices, are most likely to be harmed to a greater extent than everyone else when a crisis or calamity comes about,” she added. “It’s sort of the domino effect on everything that was already there.”
Galea has a new book coming out next month called “The Contagion Next Time.” In it, he says fundamental changes are needed to address the impact of two centuries of racist systems.
By ensuring “that everyone can easily afford good food and safe shelter, as much education as they desire, steady jobs with living wages, and the best doctors and hospitals for their needs.”
“No matter how much we focus on vaccines and viral detection, we actually need to be honest with ourselves that COVID-19 was a failure of our social and economic systems,” Galea said.
“Preventing the consequences of a pandemic is not just about the infectious agent,” he added. “The other half of the mitigation efforts are the society the virus hits.”
In response to the study, Cooper and Yvonne Commodore-Mensah, PhD, a researcher and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, wrote an editorial on reversing the tide of racial and ethnic disparities.
“If we really want to level the playing field and give racial and ethnic minorities a fair chance to recover after a crisis, we have to address healthcare access,” Commodore-Mensah told Healthline.
“We can no longer accept a culture where it’s OK for a certain segment of the population to not have healthcare access, not have health insurance, not be able to see a provider to manage their health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes,” she explained.
In the editorial, Commodore-Mensah and Cooper write that some recent federal legislation has been helpful.
“Like the American Rescue Plan. All the efforts at enhancing access to healthcare are critically important,” Cooper said.
They also wrote that there’s a need for policies such as the new federal infrastructure bill, but Cooper said the challenge is getting bipartisan support.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Commodore-Mensah added. “I don’t expect any single bill to solve decades of deep-seated issues with our healthcare.”
“But we can’t afford to take small, incremental steps. This really is a crisis. And we need to put our money where we say our priorities are,” she said.