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Black and Hispanic individuals are more likely than white Americans to be hospitalized with severe COVID-19, but researchers have found the disparity may be due in large measure to socioeconomic circumstances.
Factors like income, household size and neighborhood density played a role in who was hospitalized.
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In a study published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society, researchers found the odds of testing positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 was 3.3 times higher for non-Hispanic Blacks and 2.8 times higher for white Hispanics — and the risk of hospitalization was 4.8 times greater for non-Hispanic Blacks and 3.8 times greater for white Hispanics — compared with non-Hispanic whites. Black Hispanics were not included in these figures.
But using neighborhood-level U.S. Census Bureau data, the researchers found that socioeconomic factors were responsible for much of the disparity. Median income was an underlying factor in 27 percent of the cases with higher odds of testing positive; household size in 20 percent; and neighborhood density in 17 percent.
“The associations between race/ethnicity and test positivity or hospitalization were not as strong once we adjusted for these socioeconomic factors,” study coauthor Hayley B. Gershengorn, M.D., an associate professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said in a statement.
‘Structural racism’ drives health outcomes
No racial or ethnic difference in mortality or other outcomes was found for those hospitalized, but the researchers noted that the sample size was too small to draw a definitive conclusion.
Improving socioeconomic conditions may help balance racial and ethnic disparities found with COVID-19 (and likely other similarly spread diseases such as influenza), but Gershengorn acknowledges that “we still have structural racism in this country that likely drives many health-related outcomes for minority people.”
The study was based on data collected from 15,473 Miami-area adults who were tested for SARS-CoV-2, including 295 who were admitted between March 1 and July 23, 2020, at the University of Miami Hospital and Clinics. White Hispanics accounted for 48.1 percent of the participants, 29 percent were non-Hispanic white, 15 percent were non-Hispanic Black, and 1.7 percent were Hispanic Black.
Peter Urban is a contributing writer and editor who focuses on health news. Urban spent two decades working as a correspondent in Washington, D.C., for daily newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, California and Arkansas, including a stint as Washington bureau chief for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His freelance work has appeared in Scientific American, Bloomberg Government and CTNewsJunkie.com.