Racial Equity and COVID-19
May 12, 2020
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is stressing our health care system, our economy, and parents trying to teach their children at home. It is also highlighting significant racial disparities in access to quality health care.
According to an April survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Black and Hispanic people are more likely than white people to know someone who has been seriously impacted by the virus.1 In New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States for several weeks, the mortality rate from the virus was twice as high among Black and Hispanic people than the rate among white people.2
There have been similar patterns in Chicago,3 Milwaukee,4 and Louisiana.5 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights several major reasons for the disparities. These include:
- Neighborhood and Physical Environment: Members of racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in communities with less access to groceries and other basic goods, and therefore have to rely on public transportation. They are also more likely to live in densely populated communities and in multi-generational households.
- Work Circumstances: In major urban centers, “essential” workers are more likely to be members of racial and ethnic minorities. People who work in these settings have more chances to be exposed to COVID-19 because these types of jobs require frequent or close contact with the public, involve activities that cannot be done from home, and may lack benefits such as paid sick days.
- Underlying Health and Health Care Conditions: People from racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by lack of access to quality health care, health insurance, and/or linguistically and culturally responsive health care.6
In addition to these structural issues that the CDC highlights, some argue that racism itself is partially to blame. A recent study indicates that racism in medical school may influence whether newly graduated doctors go to work in underserved communities.7 Furthermore, microaggressions—subtle expressions of racism and bias that people of color face in their daily lives—lead to stress and have an impact on health outcomes, according to recent research.8
Clearly, the disparities that we are seeing in the impacts of COVID-19 are not new. However, it is possible that the pandemic will give these issues new attention and help them gain an increased sense of urgency. The roots of this problem run deep and connect to many other issues facing the United States.
- Did it surprise you to learn that the health impacts of COVID-19 are different by race? Why or why not?
- How high a priority should it be to address these issues during the outbreak?
- How high a priority should it be after the outbreak?
- What kinds of solutions would you propose to address the issues described here?
Featured Image Credit: AP PHOTO/BEBETO MATTHEWS
 Pew Research Center: https://www.people-press.org/2020/04/14/health-concerns-from-covid-19-much-higher-among-hispanics-and-blacks-than-whites/?utm_source=AdaptiveMailer&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20-04-14%20COVID%20Personal%20Health_GEN%20DISTRO&org=982&lvl=100&ite=5966&lea=1326331&ctr=0&par=1&trk=
 New York City Health Department: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-19-deaths-race-ethnicity-04082020-1.pdf
 National Public Radio: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/06/828303894/in-chicago-covid-19-is-hitting-the-black-community-hard
 U.S. News & World Report: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/new-york/articles/2020-03-27/milwaukees-black-community-hit-hard-by-coronavirus
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/racial-ethnic-disparities/index.html
 The Nation’s Health: http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org/content/49/8/E30
 Center for Health Journalism: https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2017/11/08/how-racism-and-microaggressions-lead-worse-health