What Does COVID-19 Look Like for Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous People?

Victoria Hernandez

June 25, 2020

COVID-19 and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous People

Last month, Americans were protesting against the stay-at-home orders in the name of opening the economy as unemployment rates steadily increased. Looking at Twitter, you’ll see many tweets like the one below, pining to reopen. People are aching to go back to “normal.” Looking at data, especially for Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous People, you’ll see that we aren’t in a position to do that just yet.

It depends on who’s getting infected. If it’s anyone under 50, they’re more likely to die on a car crash than die from COVID. Today is on track for 300 deaths. Also more tests, more cases. Death rate is what matters. Economy HAS to open pic.twitter.com/9rKCnxcnKX

— AggieGuy2016 (@TexanGuy2016) June 17, 2020

As a resident physician points out, we can’t exactly cling on to the mortality rate. More than 120,000 people have died. That doesn’t sound like a lot in a country filled with 300+ million in the grand scheme of things. Most people who contract the virus will recover, though not without a scratch.

But, let’s break things down to paint a picture. COVID-19 doesn’t seem so bad if you’re a person with health insurance and have access to care. For Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous populations, especially those who don’t have the privilege of working from home or taking time off, the data are not in their favor. Note: the data are incomplete. It’s difficult to collect all of the COVID data when they weren’t being recorded from the beginning.

COVID-19 and Age

According to the CDC, more than 70,000 adults aged 65 and older have died from COVID-19. Roughly 30,000 of those have been from residents of skilled nursing facilities. Laurie Orlov, an industry analyst, has been discussing the virus around aging Americans.

“The New York Times has looked at nursing homes and found them to be a problem…bad physical design of the buildings, bad for-profit ownership, bad Covid-19 testing, etc…” -Laurie Orlov

However, it’s not just older Americans who are dying from the virus. There are those too young for Medicare not faring well. And if you look at other published articles and the data they pull from, it’s glaringly obvious that COVID-19 is serious for certain demographics, read— BIPOC.

COVID-19 and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous People

Each week the CDC puts out reports reflecting the racial distribution of COVID-19 deaths. At first glance in the U.S., it appears the bulk of deaths are non-Hispanic white Americans. But as the Harvard Business Review put out recently, one needs to be cognizant of certain data pitfalls.

The Antiracist Research and Policy Center worked with the COVID Tracking Project to create The COVID Racial Data Tracker.

As I’m writing this piece, 49 of 56 states and territories currently report race and ethnicity data. Several states/territories are doing well and have reported 100%, while others struggle to report more than 25%. Let’s look at a few examples:

State Reported Race Data for Cases Reported Race Data for Deaths Percentage Population African American % COVID Cases % of all COVID Deaths
Washington D.C. 97% 100% 47% 51% 74%
Maryland 82% 99% 29% 35% 41%
California 71% 97% 6% 5% 10%
Wisconsin 89% 98% 6% 21% 25%
New York 0% 89% 14% Uknown 25%

Looking at the table, one can deduce a discrepancy between the percentage of African Americans in these populations and the percentage of African Americans dying from COVID-19. On the COVID tracking website, they’re flagged as disparities when they meet three criteria:

  1. Is at least 33% higher than the Census Percentage of Population.
  2. Remains elevated whether we include or exclude cases/deaths with unknown race/ethnicity.
  3. Is based on at least 30 actual cases or deaths.

In April, Reuters posted that African Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19 due to health inequity. They have pre-existing conditions from lack of access to care, among other inequalities. A month later, Wired came out with an article acknowledging the disparities for Black and Hispanic Americans. Most recently, CMS released a statement and according to Medicare data, Black and Hispanic patients had significantly higher hospitalization rates.

State Reported Ethnicity Data for Cases Reported Ethnicity Data for Deaths Percentage Population Hispanic or Latino % COVID Cases % of all COVID Deaths
Oregon 87% 91% 13% 40% 12%
Minnesota 80% 79% 5% 28% 4%
Delaware 91% 95% 10% 32% 7%
Colorado 91% 100% 8% 25% 7%
Pennsylvania 28% 94% 8% 29% 6%

These data are at the state level. If you go deeper into county or city-level data, you get a clearer picture of disparities. This month, AP News discussed how the Hispanic community has been hit harder than others all over the country. A lot of “essential” jobs are held by members of the Hispanic community. And, unfortunately, with a lot of the jobs, they likely don’t have insurance. Without insurance, they aren’t going to the doctor. Although they are not necessarily dying disproportionately, the Hispanic population is catching the virus. And as BBC has noted, there can be some serious damage afterward.

PBS enlightened people last month about the inequities and disproportionate effects of the virus on Indigenous populations. Kaiser Family Foundation made a point to bring it to light as well. To add insult to injury, native epidemiologists have asked for data in an effort to track the virus only to be rejected.

So, masks?

Dr. Anthony Fauci is optimistic that this will end. Despite what a number of Twitter users want to claim, the virus is not over. The data doesn’t support it being over. What does the data show? Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous People are at a higher risk when it comes to the virus. A study published this month illustrated that countries that implemented masks earlier had lower outbreaks and a lower death count. As communities begin and continue to open up, it is imperative that we wear a mask to minimize the spread.

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