Even in 2020, America is still plagued with systemic and institutional racism. In the midst of current political unrest, it is crucial to address how the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting racial and ethnic minorities. The novel coronavirus has been described as “the great equalizer” by mass media as it seems to affect people of all races. However, recent reports from the CDC on hospitalization rates indicate that there indeed exists a racial disparity in hospital cases.
COVID-NET provides weekly summaries of COVID-19 related hospitalization data. A Morbidity and Mortality Report as of March 2020 states that of the 14 states where data was collected, the population of residents (which represents 10% of the American population) was 59% white, 18% black, and 14% Hispanic. However, hospitalization of COVID-19 patients was 45% white, 33% black, and 8% Hispanic, which suggests that the black population may be affected at higher rates. The report notes that all of these patients had underlying conditions that contributed to their cases, most notably chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, or hypertension. These diseases are also found in higher levels predominately African American communities often due to lack of healthcare access. The California Department of Public Health has also published COVID-19 Race and Ethnicity Data as of May 31, 2020 (Figure 1).
Furthermore, the Yale School of Medicine reports that of the 28 states that provided data of race-categorized mortalities, the average data shows that the black population and the Latinx population is respectively 3.57 and 1.88 times as likely to die of COVID-19, than the white population.
It is important to note that there has been no biological connection between race and the coronavirus. All of the current data simply suggests that there are social issues at place that influence the health of certain ethnic groups. This crisis has shown us the adverse effects of lack of healthcare and education in vulnerable populations. Even though more data on the impact of race on COVID-19 related hospitalization rates is required before any conclusions can be made, there is no doubt that many factors can influence the health of ethnic minority groups and make them more susceptible in this pandemic. For instance, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be uninsured than white Americans, and not having access to medical treatment can result in serious underlying medical conditions amongst these populations. Other factors such as mass incarceration of certain racial groups, residential segregation, wage disparities that influence living and work-place conditions all play a role in one’s susceptibility to COVID-19.
Great strides have been made in medicine, but the effects are not distributed equally. Public health is tied to many social determinants and COVID-19 has highlighted many. Movements such as Black Lives Matter has advocated and promoted human rights, including health care equalities. A lot more work needs to be done for public health to address these racial disparities.