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Stark Racial Disparity in COVID-19 Deaths Based on Age

Brookings Institution points to unequal access to health care as a factor

Medical workers take in African American male patient outside of a special coronavirus intake area at Maimonides Medical Center

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

En español | Black Americans ages 45 to 54 are dying from COVID-19 at seven times the rate of white Americans their age, according to a report from the Brookings Institution that suggests the disproportionate racial toll the pandemic is taking is a result, in part, of a lack of access to health care within minority communities.

Overall, blacks are dying from COVID-19 at 3.6 times the rate of whites, when adjusted for age. The disparity is greater among younger age groups, in part, because whites make up a greater portion of older Americans. Brookings also found that Latinos are dying at 2.5 times the rate of whites overall and at six times the rate of those ages 45 to 54, when adjusted for age.

"The need to take age into account is paramount, given the huge age gradient in vulnerability to COVID-19,” according to Brookings. The report notes that whites are much more likely to be in the oldest age groups that are at higher risk of dying from the virus. Nine percent of whites are over 75, compared with 4 percent of blacks and 3 percent of Latinos.

Of Americans ages 45 to 54, 62 percent are white, but they accounted for only 22 percent (1,013) of COVID-19 deaths within that age group. Blacks accounted for 1,448, and Latinos, for 1,698, of the deaths in that age group. For the report, Brookings relied on COVID-19 mortality data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between Feb. 1 and June 6.

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The Brookings report suggests the higher death rates for blacks may be due to underlying racial disparities. According to Brookings fellow Rayshawn Ray, blacks are more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods farther from hospitals, have subpar pharmacies, and live in neighborhoods that lack healthy food options, green spaces and recreational facilities. They also have a greater prevalence of hypertension, obesity, diabetes and lung disease that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

"What we politely call a ‘health disparity’ is killing people of color daily. It is causing people of color to live sicker and die quicker because of the color of their skin,” says Dayna Bowen Matthew, author of Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care and recently named dean of George Washington University's School of Law.

For ages 45 to 54 the death rate per 100,000 is 28 for blacks, 24 for Latinos and 4 for whites. For ages 55 to 64 it is 76 per 100,000 for blacks, 60 for Latinos and 13 for whites. For ages 65 to 74 it is 196 for blacks, 135 for Latinos and 38 for whites. For ages 75 to 84 it is 443 for blacks, 290 for Latinos and 120 for whites. And for age 85 and over it is 880 for blacks, 573 for Latinos and 436 for whites.

"In every age category, Black people are dying from COVID at roughly the same rate as white people more than a decade older,” according to Brookings.

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