The COVID-19 crisis is worse for some racial and ethnic groups

December 1, 2020

Ongoing research about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to find that some racial and ethnic groups are getting and dying from the virus in higher numbers than other groups.

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

For example, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • The hospitalization
    rate due to COVID-19 among Hispanic people is more than 4 times higher than for
    non-Hispanic whites
  • The rate of COVID-19
    infection for American Indian/Alaska Natives in states with a significant American
    Indian/Alaska Native population was more than 3 times higher than rates for non-Hispanic
  • Hispanics accounted
    for 24% of COVID-19 deaths between May and August 2020 even though that group
    only represents 18.5% of the U.S. population
  • Black people
    accounted for 19% of COVID-19 deaths between May and August 2020 even though that
    group only represents 12.5% of the U.S. population
  • A recent report
    analyzed COVID-19 cases in hotspots in the United States. Hotspots were defined
    as counties with high rates of COVID-19 infections. This report showed that
    people of color were more likely to live in these hotspots. The larger group
    living in these hotspots were Hispanic people, followed by Black people and American
    Indian/Alaska Natives. This is a problem because the risk of getting infected
    with COVID-19 is higher for those who live in these hotspots where the virus
    can spread quickly. 

for this disparity

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,
communities such as 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 these inequities, including social, economic and environmental factors tied to longstanding systemic and structural racism. Racism and unequal living conditions affect people’s health and well-being. Together, these factors make up what is 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.

In general, these racial and ethnic
groups are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 because they are more exposed
to the virus and less protected. To make matters worse, if they get COVID-19,
many face significant challenges to getting better.

Here are some of the factors that are
affecting these racial and ethnic groups:

  • Type of
    Many have jobs that are considered
    essential, meaning they can’t be excused from working due to the pandemic. This
    includes working at restaurants, farms, factories, construction sites, grocery
    stores, public transportation and in places where medical services are
    provided. These types of jobs can’t be done from home. This means people
    working in these jobs will be in contact with many people every day, increasing
    their risk of infection.
  • Many
    people in one household:
    In these cultures,
    it’s common for several generations to live together. For example, parents,
    children, grandparents and sometimes in-laws live in the same home This increases
    the risk of infection for these families because young people who are exposed
    to the virus may bring it home, exposing older people in the family. Another issue
    is how to isolate a sick person in the house when space is limited.
  • Having
    other medical conditions:
    Having medical
    conditions like diabetes and obesity (being very overweight) can make people
    more at risk of getting sick from COVID-19.
  • Environmental
    such as higher exposure to pollution and
    hazard materials and limited access to clean water and in some cases running
  • Immigration
    For the Hispanic community in
    particular, people who are undocumented may face additional challenges, such as:
    • Lack of access to health care services due to not having health insurance
      or not enough insurance
    • Qualifying for government help, like financial and unemployment
    • Fears of deportation

 March of Dimes calls on policymakers to take immediate action to better
serve racial and ethnic minority groups in our country. We fight for policies
that are rooted in health equity and will create positive change, improve
prevention, and lead to equal access to health care services. Health equity
means everyone has a fair chance to be healthy.

For more information about services in your community, like local health clinics or social services, dial 211 or contact your local health department. Find your local health department, check the CDC’s Health Department directory.