Health

Black and latino communities bore the brunt of COVID-19 in the US

The disparities reflect widespread racial inequalities.

Source: Mary Altaffer/AP

Source: Mary Altaffer/AP

In Kent County, Michigan, Black and Latino residents make up 20% of the population, but accounted for 63% of coronavirus infections through May. In Fairfax County, Virginia, there are three times as many white people as Latino people, yet Latinos were four times as likely to get infected by the virus through May.

Racial disparities amid the COVID-19 pandemic have been confirmed by initial data and on local levels across the United States for months, but new federal data analyzed by the New York Times shows the extent to which the coronavirus has disproportionately impacted by Black and Latino people, as well as Native Americans, who have faced devastating outbreaks on reservations throughout the country.

The newly assessed data — described by the New York Times as “the most comprehensive look to date on nearly 1.5 million coronavirus patients in America” — shows the ways in which longstanding and deep-rooted racial inequalities have shaped the trajectory of the pandemic.

“Systemic racism doesn’t just evidence itself in the criminal justice system,” Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, told the Times. “It’s something that we’re seeing taking lives in not just urban America, but rural America, and all types of parts [of the country] where, frankly, people deserve an equal opportunity to live — to get health care, to get testing, to get tracing.”

The Times received data on 1.5 million coronavirus patients across the US through the end of May from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after suing the agency for access to the records through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

The data allowed the Times to review racial disparities in 974 counties throughout the US, representing more than 55% of the overall population.

From Williamsburg, South Carolina, to Olmsted County, Minnesota, to Plymouth County, Massachusetts, the records show massive racial disparities — and the data is even more striking when cases are broken down by age groups. Latino people between the ages of 40 and 50, for example, were more than 5 times as likely to become infected with COVID-19 than white people in the same age range.

The United Nations has called on the US and other countries to address this “appalling impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities.”

There are a number of reasons for these disparities, according to the Times.

Black and Latino people are nearly twice as likely as white people to work in service-sector or production jobs that can’t be done remotely. That means they’re more likely to spend their days in highly crowded areas that are ideal for the spread of the virus, and then bring these germs home.

Black and Latino people are also more likely to live in areas with levels of high air pollution (which has been shown to exacerbate COVID-19 outcomes), have less access to health insurance, and have pre-existing conditions related to poverty.

The Times notes that the lack of transparency around this data has prevented adequate contact tracing and medical responses across the country.

More data will have to be analyzed to understand how these inequalities have continued throughout June and July, but the Times reports that the CDC has largely failed to map out and inform the public of the scale of the pandemic. In fact, the CDC estimates that there are up to 10 times as many cases than official tallies counted.

“You need all this information so that public health officials can make adequate decisions,” Andre M. Perry, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, told the New York Times. “If they’re not getting this information, then municipalities and neighborhoods and families are essentially operating in the dark.”

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