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

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 whites
  • 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. 

Reasons 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 employment: 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 factors, such as higher exposure to pollution and hazard materials and limited access to clean water and in some cases running water.
  • Immigration status: 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 assistance
    • 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.