Understanding Racial Inequalities in COVID Patients May Grant Access to the Adequate Healthcare
The United States is currently the country with the largest number of cases of coronavirus infection, with over 28 million people who contracted the novel virus. It is also the country with the highest death rate from the virus, with more than 505,000 individuals whose lives were claimed by the coronavirus. However, there are certain demographics that have a difficult time receiving a timely diagnosis, as well as having access to the healthcare they need. While the majority of people who contracted the coronavirus before the summer of last year were white, more and more people of color came to struggle with this infection afterward. The medical professionals at Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital saw a decline in the percentage of white patients, a steady number of Asian and African American patients, and a great spike in Hispanic patients after the summer of last year. Furthermore, the people who were struggling with coronavirus infection were considerably younger, with a low prevalence of underlying health conditions and diseases, but with a higher rate of obesity.
People from Certain Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups Experience Social and Economic Inequities
It is a known fact that throughout the United States, coronavirus inflicts a disproportionate cost on minorities, as African Americans and Hispanics are 5 times more likely to contract the coronavirus and be hospitalized for it. Nevertheless, the wide disparities in race and ethnicity among people who need hospitalization for coronavirus infection highlight larger social and economic inequities. We must acknowledge the circumstances that place people of color at a higher risk of contracting the new virus, which include:
- they are more likely to work essential jobs that involve working closely with the public, as well as with other workers
- they are less likely to have access to the healthcare they need
- they are more likely to live in overcrowded, multigenerational housing, where they cannot maintain social distancing
- they are more likely to live in poverty or economic instability
Recent medical studies found that people of color get sick and die of coronavirus infection at higher rates than the white population, as well as than their share of the population. The following are some of the findings of medical studies with regard to people of color and coronavirus infection:
- Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan are the states where African American people die from coronavirus infection at a rate of 2.5 times higher than their share of the population
- African American people contract and die from coronavirus at a rate 1.5 higher than their share of the population
- Hispanics die from coronavirus infection at increasingly higher rates than their share of the population
- The Native American and Alaskan Native rate of sickness and death is disproportionate to their population in 21 states
- Hispanics have a disproportionate rate of infection in 45 states and the District of Columbia
- White people die from coronavirus infection at a lower rate than their share of the population in 36 states and the District of Columbia
Why Do People from Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups Have a More Difficult Time Getting the Healthcare They Need?
There is more and more evidence that some racial and ethnic minority demographics are being disproportionately affected by infection with coronavirus. The main factor that led to these racial and ethnic disparities is inequities in the social determinant of health, such as healthcare access and poverty. Some other essential factors that contribute to the higher rate at which people of color get infected with coronavirus are:
- Discrimination: Unfortunately, discrimination still exists in systems that are meant to protect the wellbeing or health of people, such as healthcare, education, housing, criminal justice, and finance. Thereby, discrimination can easily lead to toxic stress and also shapes social and economic factors that place some people of color at a greater risk of contracting the new virus.
- Healthcare access: Because people of color are more likely to be uninsured than white people, their access to healthcare is limited. Moreover, factors such as lack of transportation, child care, the possibility to take time off of work, communication and language barriers, and cultural differences between patients and providers also contribute to restricted access to healthcare. Lastly, people from racial and ethnic minority groups are less eager to seek the healthcare they need because they are afraid of the discrimination that still exists in the healthcare system.
- Workplace: Some people of color are disproportionately represented in essential workplaces such as healthcare facilities, factories, grocery stores, and public transportation. Thereby, they have increased chances of being exposed to the coronavirus due to factors such as close contact with the general public or other workers, not being able to work from home, and not having paid sick days.
- Educational and income gaps: Because there are inequities in the access to high-quality education for some racial and ethnic minority groups, these people may experience lower high school completion rates and barriers to college entrance. As a consequence, they are more likely to work in lower-paying or less stable jobs. Due to limited job options, some people of color have less flexibility to leave workplaces that may place them at a higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
- Housing: Since oftentimes, people from racial and ethnic minority groups live in overcrowded houses, they cannot practice social distancing. It is not uncommon for certain people of color to live in multigenerational housing, which thereby places them at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus.
Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we interact with each other, as well as the way we support each other. Nonetheless, this should not prevent people who work in the healthcare system to strive to promote fair access to healthcare to everyone. Furthermore, employers, public health agencies, and policymakers can also get involved in granting access to people from racial and ethnic minority groups to the healthcare they need. To prevent the further spread of coronavirus, working together is crucial, as this is the only way we can ensure people have the necessary resources to maintain and manage their physical, emotional, and mental health, which includes access to information, affordable testing, and medical and mental healthcare. Ultimately, we need programs and practices that are suitable for communities in which people of color live, play, work, learn and worship.