Ask Dr John Esq – Disparity in COVID-19 Infections – Effects Among Black-African-American and Hispanic-Latino American Communities

Article by John Naranja, MD, JD.

According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 60 million Hispanic-Latino Americans reside in the United States. This accounted for 18% of the total U.S. population in 2017. 

There are approximately 48 million African-American-Black individuals who reside in the United States. This accounted for 15% of the total U.S. population in 2017.  

Black/African-Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans, however, represent a disproportionately higher number of more severe infections from COVID-19.  The CDC has identified four factors that help explain the disparity: 1) living conditions; 2) work circumstances; 3) underlying health condition, and 4) access to care.

Living conditions refer to circumstances in the community that make it difficult to practice social distancing, or access essential goods or services. Although individual situations may vary, general census data indicate that living conditions are somewhat distinguishable between ethnicities. Examples include living in more densely populated areas and/or residing in a location where grocery stores or pharmacies represent a greater distance to travel.  

Work circumstances relate to the demographic of occupations that may result in an increased risk for exposure. For example, despite the recommendation to increase work-from-home activities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the ability to work from home differs enormously by race and ethnicity. One study found that only 16.2% of Hispanic/Latino Americans and 19.7% of Black/African Americans have the ability to work from home. Moreover, a large majority of those workers who are unable to work from home have jobs in the service and hospitality industry. Those who work in this capacity will typically place themselves at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure. 

Underlying conditions associated with the presentation of more severe COVID-19 infections include obesity, heart problems, and diabetes.  

African Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans are at higher risk for diabetes.  This same group is also at the highest for the development of obesity, and heart disease.  

Combine the increased risk of having an underlying health condition that makes one more susceptible to contracting a more severe type of COVID-19 infection with an overall greater likelihood of being uninsured and the disparities are magnified.

The psychological effects of COVID-19 may also be measured. According to a survey from the Election News Pathways Project, Hispanics and African-Americans are more troubled by how the COVID-19 pandemic affects the health of the U.S. population, their own financial situation, and the day-to-day-life of the local community when compared with white adults.  The effect is an increase in distress over what the future holds and further underlines the disparity in COVID-19’s impact on particular groups.

Dr. John, Esq. is both an attorney and a physician. Before obtaining his law degree, Dr. John Naranja practiced for approximately 12 years as an orthopedic surgeon.

Posted in Public Health

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