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The coronavirus has now infected more than 1.2 million people across the country, and African Americans, Hispanics and other minority populations are disproportionately being affected by the virus and the illness it causes: COVID-19.
A mid-April analysis from Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) showed that in the majority of states reporting data that include race and ethnicity, black Americans account for a higher share of confirmed cases and deaths compared to their share of the total population. An earlier report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied a handful of states and found that among patients for whom information on race and ethnicity was available, black Americans were hospitalized at higher rates than whites for COVID-19. What’s more, in New York City, the U.S. community hardest hit by the virus, more Hispanics per capita are succumbing to the illness than any other ethnic group.
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Infection rates have been especially high in the Navajo Nation, which has land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, with more than 2,700 cases and 88 deaths as of May 8. The KFF analysis shows that Native Americans make up more than a third of cases in New Mexico but only 9 percent of the state’s population. In Arizona, Native Americans account for 7 percent of cases and 21 percent of deaths, but 4 percent of the state’s population. Utah did not release racial data on its cases.
“The data is clear and has been clear for decades: African Americans, Latinos and other minority groups live sicker and die younger,” says Stephen Thomas, a professor of health policy and management and director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “We cannot close our eyes or put up blinders to the disproportionate impact of this disease on racial and ethnic minority communities.”
African Americans and the risks of COVID-19
An April 29 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in a sample of 305 people hospitalized for COVID-19 at eight Georgia hospitals, more than 80 percent with known race/ethnicity were non-Hispanic black — a higher proportion than expected, the researchers note.
"It is important to continue ongoing efforts to understand why black persons are disproportionately hospitalized for COVID-19,” including the role of social and economic factors in infection risk, the researchers write. “It is critical that public health officials ensure that prevention activities prioritize communities and racial groups most affected by COVID-19.”
Chronic conditions exacerbate health outcomes
Many leading health experts point to underlying medical conditions, including heart disease and diabetes, as one explanation for why minority populations are seeing high rates of sickness and death from COVID-19. These conditions are more common in black, Hispanic and Native Americans. They also happen to be leading risk factors for severe illness from the coronavirus.