Racial Disparities in Covid-19 Data - A Startling Reality

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

This Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, revealing an alarming Covid-19 racial disparity. Hispanic and non-white Americans are dying both at younger ages and in greater numbers than White Americans...


Startling Statistics


Percentage of Covid-19 Deaths by Race/Ethnicity and Age Group in the U.S.

Through an analysis of 10,647 Covid-19 related deaths, the agency concluded that 34.9% of deaths among Hispanic Americans and 29.5% of deaths among non-white Americans were in people under age 65. In contrast, people under age 65 composed only 13.2% of deaths among White Americans. Seemingly, fewer White Americans are dying due to Covid-19 under age 65 than Hispanic and non-white Americans.


Underlying Factors


According to Utibe Essien, these statistics align with clinical and social factors associated with Covid-19 infections and deaths. Dr. Essien, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, and his co-authors published a paper in May discussing the lack of race and ethnicity data for Covid-19 rates of testing and infection.


Non-white Americans have chronic risk factors - cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic pulmonary disease - associated with Covid-19 infection at younger ages. For example, the rate of premature cardiovascular deaths in Black Americans is higher than in White Americans.


In regards to social factors, Black and Hispanic Americans have a higher probability of being low-wage, essential workers. According to Essien, the lack of a choice to work from home among these individuals increases their exposure to Covid-19. Additionally, these individuals, in all likelihood, live in low-income, crowded areas where social distancing is difficult.


Differences Among Communities


Ibraheem Karaye and Jennifer Horney, epidemiologists at the University of Delaware, conducted a comparison of each U.S. county's Covid-19 case count with its score on the CDC's 15-factor social vulnerability index. In his country-by-country analysis, Dr. Karaye concluded that vulnerable communities across the U.S. are vulnerable in different ways.


Ethnic factors like residents' minority status and language best explain infection rates in Northeastern states. On the other hand, housing and transportation factors - such as lacking a vehicle or living in multiunit structures - predict infections in Gulf Coast states best. Although Dr. Karaye does not understand the existence of these differences, he suspects they can be utilized to reduce "inequities in the health impacts of disasters."


Conclusion


Dr. Karaye's sentiments are shared by CDC in the aforementioned report, which states "Understanding factors contributing to racial/ethnic mortality differences and out-of-hospital deaths might inform targeted communication to encourage persons in at-risk groups to practice preventive measures and promptly seek medical care if they become ill."


It should be noted that the CDC relies on local and state health departments to gather demographic information. This, as pointed out by Dr. Essien, means race and ethnicity are not always included in test results.

"I do want to believe that the CDC is committed to this work," he said. "A lot of these are structural factors that, of course, we can’t just snap and fix, but I hope our society and our health system are really starting to consider just how critical these are..."

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