Black, Hispanic and Native American people infected with Covid-19 are about four times more likely to be hospitalized than others, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows.
In the eight-month period between March 1 to November 7, there were 70,825 hospitalizations reported to the CDC. While White and non-Hispanic Black people represented the highest number of hospitalizations, racial and ethnic groups were disproportionately impacted.
The rate for Hispanic or Latino was approximately 4.2 times the rate of non-Hispanic White persons, according to the CDC data.
The same was true for American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black people, who were hospitalized about 4.1 and 3.9 times the rate of non-Hispanic White persons, the CDC said.
The findings are consistent with reports that nonwhite Americans have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The number of Covid-19 cases among Black and Hispanic children and across all ages is higher than other groups. Black and Hispanic people infected with the virus also died at disproportionately higher rates over the summer.
Health officials have sounded the alarm for months about this trend — and public health experts say it won’t change unless the very compounding factors that put these groups in disadvantage are addressed.
“We’ve learned a lot about how to treat this disease as well as more about how to prevent it with wearing masks and social distancing,” said Dr. Lisa Cooper, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity. “The problem is that for people who still are having challenges with access to health care it doesn’t mean things are getting better for them.”
Some communities of color, including Latinos and African Americans, are often uninsured or distrust the health care system. They have higher rates of conditions like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, which can lead to more severe reactions to Covid-19, Cooper said.
Jarvis Chen, a social epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said more people of color have jobs where they can be exposed to the virus in areas like health care, food production and public transportation.
If they get sick, many are afraid their health may impact their ability to financially support their families in the short and long-term.
“These are real situations that people have to deal with that impact the possibility that people feel like they don’t have a choice in terms of being able to stay home even if they have symptoms that could be in fact Covid-19 symptoms,” said Chen, whose research focuses on social inequalities in health.
Learning that Black and Latinos were at a higher risk of Covid-19 complications has influenced some of the decisions that families are taking.
Irene Skinner, who lives in Jefferson County, Alabama, has five daughters who are attending virtual classes to avoid getting exposed to the virus.
“I don’t want to take a chance and put myself at risk, nor my kids, nor my mother,” Skinner told CNN affiliate WBRC.
The county’s population is about 43% Black, according to US Census data. There have been more than 26,000 positive Covid-19 cases in the county and 27% of them involved Black people. From the more than 400 people who have died of Covid-19 in Jefferson County about 48% were Black, according to data from county health and emergency management officials.
Van Phillips, principal at the high school that one of Skinner’s daughters attends, reached out to families to explain how Covid-19 disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic people.
Now, the school has the highest percentage of students learning from home, WBRC reported, citing data provided by Jefferson County Schools.
“There are just some things that we have to do to save our lives,” Phillips told WBRC.
For Chen, the CDC’s findings should be a wake-up call for health officials to think about the distribution of personal protective equipment, sensible sick pay policies and the potential distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine.
“The demographics tell part of the story but they should really direct us to think about how do we target populations that will benefit the most in terms of protecting them,” Chen said.