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Studies Show Heavy Toll of COVID-19 on African Americans

Higher rates of hospitalizations, deaths for blacks due to the coronavirus

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Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to non-Hispanic whites, a new study finds. The research, published in the journal Health Affairs, reflects what states and communities across the country have reported: Communities of color are getting hit hardest by the coronavirus and the illness and death it causes.

For the study, researchers analyzed more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at a large Northern California-based health care system from Jan. 1 through April 8 and found that African Americans had 2.7 times the odds of hospitalization for COVID-19 as their non-Hispanic white counterparts. What's more, a higher proportion of black patients were transferred to the intensive care unit than non-Hispanic white patients.

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Similar findings have been reported across the country. A study published May 27 in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, found that nearly 77 percent of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized in a large Louisiana health system between March 1 and April 11 were black. In Georgia, more than 80 percent of 305 adult patients hospitalized with coronavirus complications were black, an analysis published May 8 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.

The black population is also shouldering a disproportionate number of deaths from the coronavirus. Blacks account for nearly 23 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. to date, even though blacks make up about 13 percent of the country's population, according to the latest data from the CDC. In several states, including Michigan, Arkansas and Alabama, and in the District of Columbia, the disparity in deaths is even more pronounced.

Jobs, health care contribute to inequities

Health experts point to a number of factors that may influence the virus’ disproportionate impact on black Americans. Chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, increase risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and black Americans “continue to bear a disproportionate burden” of these ailments, the authors of the Health Affairs study write.

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Employment also plays a role, notes Natalia Linos, executive director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. She references “essential workers who basically have no protection and then they bring [the virus] home.”

Data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute show that black workers are more likely to hold front-line jobs, including roles in public transit, child care and health care. And fewer than 1 in 5 black workers are able to work from home, putting them at greater risk for acquiring the virus.

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Then there's access to health care. Black Americans are more likely than whites to be uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). “Inadequate access is also driven by a long-standing distrust of the health care system” as well as “financial implications associated with missing work to receive care,” the CDC notes. And this may contribute to delays in treatment, allowing the illness to worsen and reducing the likelihood of recovery.

Other communities of color face COVID-19 burden

In addition to blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are also disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in the U.S.

Several states report the share of COVID-19 cases among Hispanics to be higher than their share of the population, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, a collaboration between the COVID Tracking Project and the Antiracist Research & Policy Center. In New York City, the epicenter of the epidemic in the U.S., more Hispanics per capita have succumbed to the illness than any other ethnic group, an April report showed.

Death rates have been especially high in the Navajo Nation, which has land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. American Indians make up 21 percent of deaths in Arizona but only 4 percent of the state's population, according to data from KFF. In New Mexico, Native Americans account for 37 percent of coronavirus cases but only 9 percent of the population. Utah does not have racial data on its cases.

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