Epidemiologist says study’s findings make the disparity in deaths between Black and Hispanic people and white people “even more appalling.”
A new study found that Black and Hispanic patients are not inherently more vulnerable to coronavirus, despite contracting COVID at a disproportionately higher rate than white Americans.
Instead, evidence shows that communities of color are more exposed to the pandemic due to social and environmental factors.
“We hear this all the time, ‘Blacks are more susceptible,’” Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe told the New York Times. “It is all about the exposure. It is all about where people live. It has nothing to do with genes.”
The study, which Dr. Ogedegbe led, was published in the journal JAMA Network Open earlier this week. In it, researchers note that communities of color are more likely to live in more crowded conditions, rely on public transportation, or hold jobs that require frequent contact with others. Communities of color in America also often have less access to health care, and are more likely to have underlying health conditions.
“Although Black patients were more likely than white patients to test positive for COVID-19, after hospitalization they had lower mortality, suggesting that neighborhood characteristics may explain the disproportionately higher out-of-hospital COVID-19 mortality among Black individuals,” they wrote in the study.
The results of the study are a clear indication of a serious health disparities in the United States. Jon Zelner, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, said the damage COVID has wrought on Black and Hispanic patients and families could have been avoided. He said the federal government could have better protected people by providing income subsidies and additional protective equipment in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
Dr. Ogedegbe’s study is not the only one to reach this conclusion. Others found mortality rates between Black or Hispanic communities show no difference with white Americans.
According to the New York Times, investigators expected to see that underlying health conditions would lead to an increased fatality rate for Black and Hispanic patients, because these demographics tend to have a higher rate of obesity and high blood pressure. And those conditions can raise the risk of severe cases of COVID-19. But analysis of the data showed the conditions didn’t make much of a difference.
Dr. Price Haywood said that ultimately, once a person became sick enough to be hospitalized, their race was not important.
While Dr. Ogedegbe’s study and others like it found that social and economic factors outweighed race. The studies also confirmed that minority communities were much more likely to be infected than the white population. In fact, within Dr. Ogedegbe’s results showed that Black and Latino patients were 60% to 70% more likely to be infected.