COVID-19 has affected every aspect of American life. But while each of us has felt some level of impact, one fact is inescapable: Across the country, African American and Hispanic or Latino communities have been hit harder. Much harder.
"COVID-19 is taking the gaps we know exist in health care, from an ethnic and socioeconomic standpoint, and not just amplifying them but making them scream out.”
In Louisiana, for example, black people make up less than 33 percent of the population but account for 56 percent of deaths from COVID-19. Likewise, Chicago's black residents make up 30 percent of the population but account for 48.7 percent of deaths.
What's going on here?
Studies continue, but initially no research has emerged to confirm — or rule out — a genetic role in COVID-19 severity or susceptibility. “There isn't anything per se about race, as in black or African American, or ethnicity, like Hispanic or Latino, that would necessarily put one at a higher risk for infection,” says Clyde W. Yancy, M.D., chief of cardiology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. “It is the living circumstances in which these populations reside,” he says, that is responsible for the elevated infection and mortality rates.
While the statistics may seem shocking, those who study public health are anything but shocked. In fact, this is exactly how they figured a potential pandemic would play out.
"COVID-19 is taking the gaps we know exist in health care, from an ethnic and socioeconomic standpoint, and not just amplifying them but making them scream out,” says Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The core question — why are infection and death rates so high in black and Latino communities? — has several answers. They run on a timeline, with the very first part — exposure to the virus — offering the first answer.