- Black and Hispanic people represent nearly two-thirds of US coronavirus deaths among people under 65, a new CDC report found.
- The report looked at more than 10,000 coronavirus deaths recorded from February to May.
- The results highlight the way disparities in the healthcare system have caused communities of color to get hit harder in the pandemic.
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Since the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus has disproportionately affected communities of color in the US.
An April report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one-third of the nation’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients in March were Black — despite the fact that Black Americans make up just 13% of the population.
As coronavirus cases have spiked across the country, this disparity has only deepened. A new CDC report found that Black and Hispanic patients represented nearly two-thirds of coronavirus deaths among those younger than 65. The researchers looked at data from more than 10,000 coronavirus patients whose deaths were reported from February 12 to May 18, and found that more than one-third of deceased patients under 65 were Hispanic and another 30% were Black.
White people, meanwhile, represented around 40% of US coronavirus deaths of all ages and 55% of coronavirus deaths among patients ages 85 and older. That’s more than any other race, but white people make up a far portion of the US population: around three-quarters.
The fact that most young people dying of COVID-19 in the US are people of color highlights the racial disparities at play in the pandemic.
In an interview with Business Insider, Surgeon General Jerome Adams attributed some coronavirus outbreaks among communities of color to “social determinants of health.” Black and Hispanic people, for instance, are more likely to hold service-industry jobs that increase their risk of exposure. Black Americans also account for 17% of frontline employees, despite making up 12% of the US workforce, according to a study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
In addition, Black people more likely to have preexisting medical conditions that make them vulnerable to severe health outcomes.
“Health disparities have always existed for the African-American community,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious disease expert, said in an April White House press briefing. The reason the coronavirus hits Black communities hardest, he added, has to do with the prevalence of “underlying medical conditions — the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma.”
These conditions aren’t primarily driven biology or genetics but by structural factors like unemployment, household density, limited access to fresh food, and neighborhoods that lack clean water or have high exposure to allergens and mold.
“There are also factors that we don’t measure, and those include things like structural racism,” Adams said. “We have to acknowledge that these things are occurring and that they are occurring to people in many cases because of the color of their skin.”
Patients of color face barriers to testing and quality care
The CDC study found that most deaths from February to April were recorded in three areas with significant outbreaks: New York City, New Jersey, and Washington state.
Dr. Uché Blackstock, a part-time emergency medicine physician in central Brooklyn, saw the influx of patients in March. Almost as soon as the first cases arrived in New York City, Blackstock said, she began to worry that Black and Hispanic communities would be the ones most heavily impacted.
By mid-March, she said, her patients were mostly people of color. Data from the New York State Department of Health suggests that about 34% of New York City’s deceased coronavirus patients were Hispanic and another 28% were Black. Each group makes up about a quarter of the city’s population.
Blackstock said she mentioned the changing demographics to her staff: “Do you notice the patients look like us now?”
“We actually had to close [urgent care] sites that were in mostly white affluent neighborhoods because the volume of patients actually went down,” Blackstock told Business Insider. “They started having to move staff and providers over to sites that were in predominantly Black or Latino neighborhoods.”
Blackstock said one of the main reasons for these outbreaks is that patients of color are less likely to have access to quality healthcare. Black adults are uninsured at nearly twice the rate of white adults, according to US Census data. Many Black patients may also be hesitant to seek medical care in the first place.
“We’re seeing that Black patients were less likely to be tested even when they did present to a hospital that had testing or a facility that had testing available,” Blackstock said. “We also know that when Black patients do present to the hospital with coronavirus, they usually are sicker.”
Blackstock said one of her recent coronavirus patients, an elderly Black man, told her he would rather stay home than face discrimination in the emergency room. Another patient, a young Black woman, expressed a similar concern.
Blackstock recalled their conversation: “I had so much personal protective equipment on that she looked at me and she said, ‘I just want to make sure — are you Black?’ I said yes. She said, ‘OK, good, because I just want to make sure that I’m listened to.”
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