Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, the virus has affected the daily lives of all of us. However, COVID-19 has not affected as all equally. As we continue to learn more about the virus, new data collected by the COVID Tracking Project is revealing the racial and ethnic disparities among those infected and killed by the virus.
Understanding the Disparities
As of now, the U.S. has surpassed 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, and has reached nearly 7 million confirmed cases. From these cases, data has found that nationally, Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans have disproportionately higher rates of infection. These racial and ethnic groups have also experienced greater deaths, exceeding their share of the population.
According to key findings from the COVID Tracking Project, Black Americans continue to get infected and die from COVID-19 at rates more than 1.5 times their share of the population. Additionally, data shows that Hispanic and Latinos have a disproportionate rate of infection in 45 states and the District of Columbia. For Native Americans, their share of death and sickness is disproportionate to their population in 21 out of the 36 states with sufficient reporting data. In contrast, white, non-Hispanic cases have consistently remained disproportionately low nationally for their share of the population.
The COVID Racial Data Tracker also did an analysis recently comparing white death rates to other groups and found that Hispanic and Native Americans are dying about 1.5 times the rate of white people, while Black Americans are dying at 2.4 times.
These health disparities are caused by a variety of factors, many of which are largely due to long-standing systemic health and social inequities. Racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face inequities in the social determinants of health, such as poverty and access to healthcare.
Key factors that contribute to increased risk
These are just some of the many inequities that put racial and ethnic minority groups at an increased risk of infection and death from COVI-19.
Discrimination is plays a huge part in limiting who can access crucial services such as healthcare. It exists in systems such as housing, education, criminal justice, and finances as well, which greatly impact the quality of life for those who are part of a racial or ethnic minority group. Discrimination, which includes racism, can lead to chronic and toxic stress, which also affects one’s health and can put individuals at an increased risk for COVID-19.
Since people from racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to experience discrimination in systems such as healthcare, this means many more are likely to be uninsured compared to non-Hispanic whites. Healthcare access can also be limited for these groups by other factors such as lack of reliable transportation, child care, ability to take time off work, and language barriers. A long history of discrimination in healthcare also may make some people hesitant to seek help from government and healthcare systems.
People from racial and ethnic minority groups also face increased risk of infection due to their occupations. Many individuals from these groups are disproportionately represented in essential work positions such as healthcare facilities, grocery stores, farms, factories, and public transportation. They are put at an increased risk due to several factors, from poor working conditions, close contact to others, not being able to work from home, and not having paid sick days.
Educational, income, and wealth gaps
Educational and economic inequity severely impacts the quality of life for many people in racial and ethnic minority groups. A recent study found that racial discrimination in these areas has cost the U.S. trillions over the last 20 years. Racial and ethnic discrimination in education limits future opportunities such as college admittance, job options, and income gain. People with limited job options are less likely to leave their job, even if it puts them at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face housing conditions that may increase their risk of exposure and infection. In many cultures, it is common for many generations of family to live together under one roof. This makes it difficult to follow prevention strategies such as social distancing. Additionally, due to previously mentioned factors such as discrimination and wealth gap, many cannot afford quality housing which poses greater health risks. Some also live in very cramped quarters with others, which also increased the risk of exposure and infection. Lastly, those who have lost their wages due to the pandemic are at a greater risk of eviction and homelessness.
What We Can Do
The number one thing we can do is work together to ensure that all people have equal access to resources and information to maintain and manage their physical and mental health.
The CDC offers some guidelines and resources to help start this work. While the issue is large and complex, and dismantling inequities will involve work from all systems and institutions, each one of us can do our part to help dismantle these inequities.
Key steps you can take to help reduce racial and ethnic inequities:
- Share COVID-19 prevention information and resources with communities disproportionately affected
- Work with trusted local media to share information in diverse formats and languages to reach all community members
- Connect people to healthcare providers and medical resources, including free or low cost services, such as COVID-19 testing
- Work to connect people with good and necessities such as healthy foods and housing