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Racial Health Inequities Compounded by COVID-19

A growing body of racial and ethnic data reveal COVID-19's severe impact on low-income and minority communities. (Adobe Stock)
A growing body of racial and ethnic data reveal COVID-19's severe impact on low-income and minority communities. (Adobe Stock)
May 18, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting black and brown communities. Looking at states that have released coronavirus data by race, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found even with limited numbers, Black Americans accounted for 34% of total COVID-19 deaths - despite only representing about 13% of the nation's population.

According to analysis from APM Research Labs, African-Americans in Arkansas are three times more likely to die of the virus than whites.

Uche Blackstock is a physician and founder of the group Advancing Health Equity. She said longstanding social and economic policies are driving the higher infection and death rates.

"And so when we talk about which communities carry the highest chronic disease burden - so diabetes, high blood pressure - these communities carry that high burden because of lack of access to, not just health care, but quality health care," Blackstock said.

She said COVID-19 is only exacerbating what poverty and systemic inequalities in access to clean air and fresh food have created for decades; noting that African-African, Latinx and Native American individuals are more likely to die from chronic health conditions than their white peers.

Blackstock said in the early stages of the pandemic, racial and socioeconomic biases were embedded in factors used to determine who had access to testing, such as if a person had traveled internationally. She said she believes many people who may have been exposed to the virus while working in jobs such as transportation and food production likely went undiagnosed.

"Because they did not fulfill that very strict criteria," she said.

Experts say accurate and publicly available racial data will help inform policies to help the most vulnerable, such as providing alternative housing in hotel rooms or dorms to help people quarantine who may not be able to safely do so at home, as well as providing paid sick leave for workers and improving access to affordable health care.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - AR