A recently published study found that black individuals are twice as likely as white individuals to test positive for COVID-19. This is not the first study with similar results and it will not be the last, but it does provide even more evidence that – although anyone can contract the coronavirus – race is a factor in which populations are more affected than others. It further underscores the issue of ongoing racial disparities in healthcare.
The study, from the American Thoracic Society and entitled “Association of Black Race with Outcomes in COVID-19 Disease: A Retrospective Cohort Study,” tested 4,413 individuals. Out of these patients, 17.8% tested positive. Out of those who tested positive, 57.6% of patients were black, while only 24.3% were white. Why such a difference? Study author Ayodeji Adegunsoye, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medicine, has a theory.
“I think this really amplifies how pre-existing socioeconomic and healthcare disparities affect outcomes in the population. We already know that the common comorbidities that have been associated with COVID such as hypertension and diabetes disproportionately affect the Black community. So, it wasn’t too surprising that COVID-19 seemed to more commonly affect Black individuals as well.”
Another report from the CDC published in July found that black and Hispanic individuals make up nearly two-thirds of coronavirus deaths among people under 65 years old. This means most young people dying of COVID-19 in the United States are people of color.
Socioeconomic and racial disparities at play
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ leading infectious disease expert, put it succinctly: “health disparities have always existed for the African-American community.” He explained that one of the reasons the coronavirus has hit the black community so hard has to do with “underlying medical conditions — the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma.”
We already know that great disparities exist in our healthcare system. The pandemic has only heightened them. In addition to longtime systemic racism, the pandemic highlights underlying issues that make people of color more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, including:
- Many black and Latinx people work in the service industry, putting them at a higher risk for infection
- Service industry jobs often pay poorly with no health insurance, making access to quality healthcare difficult or impossible
- Many black, Latinx, and indigenous communities have high rates of underlying health conditions (diabetes, hypertension, heart disease), making the virus more deadly
- Socio-economic disparity leads to poor housing and air pollution, leading to exacerbated health problems
Too many people of color lack access to the health insurance and proper treatment they need to survive. When racial and socio-economic disparity is not written into the equation, people are literally left behind to die.
How doctors can and should help black patients
Tochukwu M. Okwuosa, MD, director of cardio-oncology services and associate professor of internal medicine and cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago offers some advice on how medical professionals can better help and advocate for patients of color.
- Encourage patients to engage in healthy eating and exercise habits, even during the pandemic – and follow your own advice
- Address misinformation, myths, and misconceptions about COVID-19
- Provide timely information about risks of transmission and infection
- Pay attention to patients’ psychological well-being
- LISTEN to patients and ask how they are
The American Medical Association also provides a fact sheet for physicians on how to address health equity during a pandemic. We encourage our clients to read this to ensure you understand your rights when visiting a doctor.
The South Carolina injury attorneys at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC dedicate themselves to protecting the rights of patients harmed by negligent medical professionals. We fight for justice and advocate for you. To see how one of our attorneys can help, schedule your free consultation today by calling 803-327-7800, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood