COVID-19 Impact on Black Communities
Ever since police killed George Floyd on May 25 2020, millions of people have started protesting systemic racism in the United States and around the world.
In a recent Pew survey, 6% of Americans said they had attended a rally or protest focused on racial equality in the last month, (that’s more than 19 million people) and 9% have contributed money to organizations focusing on these issues (that’s more than 29 million people).
Systemic racism is not a new problem, and the effects run deeper than many people realize.
The Black community has historically had decreased access to and lower quality of healthcare than White people. That has never been more apparent now that Black Americans are dying at disproportionately higher rates from COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Non-Hispanic Black persons have a (hospitalization) rate approximately 5 times that of non-Hispanic White persons.”
That’s an upsetting statistic, although it isn’t surprising to anybody who has been paying attention to the health equity gap between Black and White Americans.
Black adults are far more likely to struggle with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure than other Americans, while Black children have a 500% higher death rate from asthma than White children.
Many are quick to blame income inequality for these gaps, and while it does play a factor, it’s interesting to note that white people on the same low income live an average of 3 years longer than Blacks.
What accounts for these discrepancies, and what can be done to help? Let’s take a closer look at the underlying factors contributing to minority groups having an increased risk of severe COVID-19.
Why Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups are at Increased Risk During COVID-19
There are several reasons that racial and ethnic minority groups are at increased risk during COVID-19.
Higher Rates of Underlying Conditions
To start with, Blacks and other minorities have higher rates of underlying conditions like diabetes, lung disease, and heart disease, which predispose them to more severe cases of the novel coronavirus.
Related: Coronavirus Resource Center
For example, while only 7.5% of non-Hispanic Whites have diabetes, 9.2% of Asian Americans, 11.7% of non-Hispanic Blacks, 12.5% of Hispanics, and 14.7% of American Indians/Alaskan Natives have diabetes.
Similarly, non-Hispanic Black adults have the highest prevalence of obesity (38.4%), while non-Hispanic White adults have a much lower rate of obesity (28.6%).
New research is showing that obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for severe COVID-19, especially among younger people, while diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease have been thought to be big risk factors since the beginning of the outbreak.
Since Blacks and other minorities have higher rates of underlying risk factors, they’ll naturally be at higher risk for severe COVID-19. However, that isn’t the only reason.
Minorities are also more likely to work frontline jobs than Whites, forcing them to work with the public rather than being able to shelter in place and work from home.
Black people make up only 13.4% of the population and 11.9% of the total workforce in the United States, yet 17% of all frontline jobs are held by Blacks, including 26% of public transportation jobs.
Minorities are also less likely to have paid sick leave and need to work when sick, rather than losing income.
Reduced Access to Quality Healthcare
Non-Hispanic Blacks are nearly twice as likely to be uninsured as non-Hispanic Whites, while Hispanics are nearly three times more likely to be uninsured.
Even when Blacks seek treatment, they face racial bias. According to one study, “A substantial number of white laypeople and medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites.”
Members of racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in densely populated areas, live in multigenerational housing, and rely on public transportation, making it more difficult to practice social distancing.
Some communities that predominantly house minorities are farther from grocery stores and suffer from worse pollution and environmental hazards, while some reservation homes lack complete plumbing.
Finally, some minority groups are overrepresented in prisons, jails, homeless shelters, and detention centers, where it can be difficult to contain outbreaks of diseases like COVID-19.
Racism’s Role in Healthcare Gaps
There are many facets to racism’s role in healthcare gaps.
According to the authors of one study:
“We must begin with the recognition that discrimination is routine and commonplace in society and likely to be similarly prevalent in medicine…Moreover, institutional discrimination is often at least as important as individual discrimination. In the case of racial disparities in medical care, other potential explanations include the geographic maldistribution of medical resources, racial differences in patient preferences, pathophysiology, economic status, insurance coverage, as well as in trust, knowledge, and familiarity with medical procedures.”
With so many different factors to consider, it will take some time to close the healthcare gaps, but the time to take action is now.
There is some evidence that the stress of being part of a marginalized community can actually affect people’s DNA and contribute to more health problems.
This process is called weathering, to evoke a sense of erosion by constant stress. So, in a sense, racism is directly contributing to the health problems that Blacks are prone to at younger ages than Whites.
Reducing the Impact of COVID-19 Among Racial and Ethnic Minority Populations
Here are a few of the ways some states are working hard to reduce the impact of COVID-19 among minorities:
- Targeting black communities for contact tracing and additional testing
- Engaging trusted community organizations like Black churches, colleges, and universities
- Distributing personal protective equipment, like hand sanitizer and masks, door to door in predominantly Black communities
- Providing cash to make up for lost wages when people quarantine and need food and social services for their families
- Providing temporary housing so people who are infected won’t spread the disease to people they live with
How Proper Medical Resources and Supply Distribution Can Narrow The Divide
With better access to healthcare, supplies, money, and opportunities to quarantine, we should see a narrowing of the healthcare gap.
The overall problem can only be partly addressed in the middle of a pandemic, and true change will take years, but we must start now to help save Black lives.
PlushCare Is Committed to Hiring and Serving a Diverse Team and Patient Base
As a virtual healthcare company, PlushCare is taking steps to increase access to care for the black community.
11.5% of Blacks are uninsured and delay care due to the cost.
PlushCare provides these patients with an affordable alternative while providing high level, comprehensive care that may otherwise be out of reach for many in the Black community.
How to Support Black Communities
If you would like to help support causes that are fighting to improve Black lives, consider donating to the following organizations:
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund is working to protect voting rights, achieve education equity, reform the criminal justice system, and ensure economic justice for all.
- Black Lives Matter Foundation is fighting to end State-sanctioned violence, liberate Black people, and end White supremacy forever.
- American Civil Liberties Union is aiming to demand racial justice, end police brutality, and defend our right to protest.
Read More About COVID-19
- What to Ask Your Employer Before Returning to Work
- Coronavirus Mental Health Center
- COVID-19 At-Home Testing
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups. Accessed on June 29, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html
Greenlining. Racial Inequality and COVID-19. Accessed on June 29, 2020 at https://greenlining.org/press/opinion-columns/2020/racial-inequality-and-covid-19/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwudb3BRC9ARIsAEa-vUuQS8ThKXdg75tZBfFOcWS0h9AIfRjoEzoAU38H7Rdp3yrMVPogsv4aAlF7EALw_wcB
Harvard Business Review. The Disproportionate Impact of Covid-19 on Black Health Care Workers in the U.S. Accessed on June 29, 2020 at https://hbr.org/2020/05/the-disproportionate-impact-of-covid-19-on-black-health-care-workers-in-the-u-s
NPR. What Do Coronavirus Racial Disparities Look Like State By State? Accessed on June 29, 2020 at https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/30/865413079/what-do-coronavirus-racial-disparities-look-like-state-by-state
AMA. Why African American communities are being hit hard by COVID-19. Accessed on June 29, 2020 at https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/population-care/why-african-american-communities-are-being-hit-hard-covid-19
PEW. COVID-19 Is Crushing Black Communities. Some States Are Paying Attention. Accessed on June 29, 2020 at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2020/05/27/covid-19-is-crushing-black-communities-some-states-are-paying-attention