The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on African Americans and Minority Communities
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
By: Nabihah Khan
(Photo Credit: Unsplash)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in April that while 33% of hospitalized COVID patients were Black, only 18% of the community were being evaluated thoroughly by health officials. Furthermore, an exploration into the annals of history indicates a troubling trend in which severe illness and fatalities are more prevalent in racial and ethnic minority populations during public health crises. Thus, it is imperative for researchers to continue to better understand the underlying risk factors that make these communities particularly vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19.
These disparities observed in Black and minority communities often stem from living, social, job, and health inequities. These inequities are further discussed below.
Racial housing segregation has been associated with the onset of other underlying health complications, such as asthma. These health conditions can be catalyzed by environmental hazards like pollution. Furthermore, in addition to poor living conditions, other factors can make it difficult for minority communities to access life-saving resources or follow preventative guidelines.
Many studies have found that racial housing segregation is linked to the onset of asthma and other chronic conditions. Asthma, in particular, is a significant risk factor for COVID-19.
Many members of racial and ethnic minorities often live in densely-populated areas, a consequence that often stems from residential housing segregation. Furthermore, it is more difficult to adhere to social distancing guidelines when in densely-populated areas, and the risk of transmission can be greater as well.
Members of minority communities may live in neighborhoods where medical facilities and stocked grocery stores are far away, which makes it more difficult for them to access adequate treatment or supplies, especially if they lack a safe and reliable means of transportation. Furthermore, they may have to rely on public transportation, which is a space that is hard to practice social distancing.
In addition to housing segregation, in cities like Baltimore, many minority communities live in neighborhoods where they don't have access to laundry facilities, and must instead travel to high-density laundromats, which increases their risk for possible COVID-19 exposure. Additionally, at these external laundry facilities, customers often have to wait for long periods of time to wait for their clothes, which is a stressful experience as well as another risk factor for virus exposure.
Many minority communities often live in multi-generational households, and it may be difficult to properly isolate older or vulnerable family members when space is limited inside the home.
Reservation homes often lack adequate plumbing and other facilities, which poses a challenge for ensuring that proper handwashing and disinfection is occurring. Frequent handwashing and disinfection are recommended by public health authorities to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Some racial and minority groups are over-represented in homeless shelters, detention centers, and prisons, and as these spaces often involve people interacting in close quarters, the novel coronavirus can spread more easily in these spaces.
Even prior to COVID-19, racial and minority communities have been vulnerable to the health inequities prevalent in the medical care systems here.
Having insurance is critical to being afford many treatments under the current U.S. healthcare system.
In all age groups, Black Americans are more likely than non-Hispanic White Americans to report that they have not visited a doctor in the past year due to cost.
Non-Hispanic Black Americans are two times more likely to not have health insurance coverage than non-Hispanic White Americans.
In 2017, almost three times as many Alaska Natives and Indigenous people reported having no health insurance coverage, compared to non-Hispanic White Americans.
Hispanic Americans are almost three times as likely to lack health insurance than non-Hispanic White Americans.
Due to a history of health inequities and strict workforce cultures, people of racial and minority communities may not receive treatment because of a language barrier, financial loss incurred by missing work, or a distrust of the healthcare system.
Some underlying chronic conditions appear to disproportionately affect racial and minority communities, and these illnesses put members at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19 and other severe illnesses.
Studies into public health trends have found that Black Americans are more likely to experience higher rates of chronic conditions at earlier ages and also have higher death rates.
Alaska Natives and other Indigenous adults are more likely than non-Hispanic White Americans to smoke cigarettes, and have high blood pressure and obesity, which are risk factors for even more critical conditions.
Racial and minority communities often work in workplaces that put them at increased risk for contracting COVID-19.
Many members of racial and minority communities are essential workers for industries at the frontlines of the pandemic. These include grocery stores, factories, meat-packing plants, and healthcare facilities. Many are forced to continue working due to financial obligations despite outbreaks in their own communities. Often these workers do not have paid sick leave, which means they are more likely to keep working even when ill.
Furthermore, on average, racial and minority groups are less likely than non-Hispanic White Americans to have accumulated wealth. They also have lower education levels, earn lower salaries, and show higher rates of joblessness.
While it is disheartening to see the many difficulties faced by racial and minority groups, it is incumbent upon us all to aid them in their plight. Please click here for resources on how to help or ways to support making healthcare more accessible for all. It is only when we are united that we can overcome this pandemic and address these health inequities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Racial and Minority Groups. Web: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Minority Population Profiles. Web: https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=2&lvlID=26
Williams, David; Sternthal, Michelle; and Wright, Rosalind (2009, Mar 12).Social Determinants: Taking the Social Context of Asthma Seriously. Pediatrics. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-2233H
Zarefsky, Marc (2020, May 13). Why African American communities are being hit hard by COVID-19. American Medical Association. Web: https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/population-care/why-african-american-communities-are-being-hit-hard-covid-19