The coronavirus has now infected more than 1.2 million people across the country, and African Americans, Hispanics and other minority populations are disproportionately being affected by the virus and the illness it causes: COVID-19.
A mid-April analysis from Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) showed that in the majority of states reporting data that include race and ethnicity, black Americans account for a higher share of confirmed cases and deaths compared to their share of the total population. An earlier report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied a handful of states and found that among patients for whom information on race and ethnicity was available, black Americans were hospitalized at higher rates than whites for COVID-19. What’s more, in New York City, the U.S. community hardest hit by the virus, more Hispanics per capita are succumbing to the illness than any other ethnic group.
Infection rates have been especially high in the Navajo Nation, which has land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, with more than 2,700 cases and 88 deaths as of May 8. The KFF analysis shows that Native Americans make up more than a third of cases in New Mexico but only 9 percent of the state’s population. In Arizona, Native Americans account for 7 percent of cases and 21 percent of deaths, but 4 percent of the state’s population. Utah did not release racial data on its cases.
“The data is clear and has been clear for decades: African Americans, Latinos and other minority groups live sicker and die younger,” says Stephen Thomas, a professor of health policy and management and director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “We cannot close our eyes or put up blinders to the disproportionate impact of this disease on racial and ethnic minority communities.”
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that fewer than 20 percent of black workers and roughly 16 percent of Hispanic ones are able to telecommute. About two-thirds of employed Hispanic adults say they would not get paid if the coronavirus caused them to miss work for two weeks or more, a Pew Research Center survey found.
“African Americans and Latinos and other minority groups are the ones out there in the warehouse, emptying food trucks, delivering your Grubhub or Uber Eats. They’re out there at risk” for catching the coronavirus, Thomas says.
Health experts, including Birx, stress that while African Americans and other minority groups are not more inherently susceptible to getting infected by the coronavirus, they are more likely to have a harder time recovering if they are infected.
“We experience social factors that are constantly putting us in a disadvantaged place to respond to an epidemic and to recover from diseases,” Rodríguez-Díaz says, pointing to unstable housing and lack of access to health care as two of the circumstances that aggravate health outcomes and disproportionately affect minority populations. “Social factors represent a significant [role] in our ability to be healthy. And if we don’t have access to those social resources, then we are in worse conditions to deal with a pandemic.”
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