COVID-19 and communities of color reveal persistent disparities

April 14, 2020

The new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has affected health systems all around the world. News after news report highlights the impact this pandemic has had on communities globally. As of today, the United States has the most cases of COVID-19 in the world. And that number is increasing day by day. While COVID-19 is spreading at different rates in some states, new data shows that the disease is affecting some groups at disproportionate rates.

An overview of health disparities in the United States

Over the years, the health of most Americans, as well as their access to health care, has improved. However, this has not been the case for all groups living in the United States. Historically, minority groups like Black/African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indian/Alaska Natives, have had worse health outcomes than non-Hispanic whites. Accessing quality health care has also been a big challenge for these groups.

There are many reasons behind this, including social, economic and environmental factors just to name a few. Together these factors make up what are known as social determinants of health — conditions in which you’re born and grow, work, live and age that affect your health throughout your life. 

COVID-19 and challenges to the health of minorities

Multiple reports have highlighted that there are serious disparities (differences) in how COVID-19 affects some racial groups in the United States, and specifically the mortality (death) rates of communities where Black/African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indian/Alaska Natives live. This is especially concerning for pregnant women living in these communities. These health disparities puts them at risk of health complications and COVID-19 presents a new challenge for them. A recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation details:

  • Alarming trends in COVID-19 related deaths. As of April 6, 2020, Blacks accounted for 59% of all COVID-19 deaths in the District of Columbia. In Louisiana, they accounted for over 70% of COVID-19 deaths. Unfortunately, deaths related to COVID-19 are affecting a higher number of Blacks in these areas.
  • Great disparities exist. Even in areas where the Black community is the minority, they account for the majority of those dying from COVID-19. In Michigan, Blacks account for 14% of the total state population, yet they accounted for 41% of total COVID-19 deaths as of April 6, 2020.
  • Insurance and financial fears play a role in access to care. Compared to Whites, Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be uninsured. Although legislation was passed to help uninsured individuals access testing for COVID-19, getting tested and treatment for this disease may be more challenging for communities of color. For example, they may be unaware of these services and have fears about the costs if they need hospital care.

As of today, Hispanics in New York City make up about 29% of the city’s population, but they account for nearly 34% of people who have died of COVID-19. Because Blacks and Hispanics experience higher rates of chronic health conditions like obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, when compared to non-Hispanic whites, experts agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting these minority groups the hardest. Given that a woman’s immune system is weakened during pregnancy, pregnant women who are minorities and have a chronic health condition may be particularly vulnerable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) people with these conditions are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19.

Call to action

April is National Minority Health Month—a special time for us to acknowledge the barriers and inequities that continue to affect minority groups, including moms and babies of color, and what’s needed to change that. March of Dimes will keep fighting to level the playing field so that all moms and babies are healthy.

We are monitoring the spread of COVID-19, around the U.S. and world. Health officials are actively collecting data to better understand the disease and report on that information every day. We're here to support you and your family with the information you need to know during this global pandemic.