Why are people of color more at risk of coronavirus complications?

Answer From William F. Marshall, III M.D.

Research increasingly shows that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the United States.

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native people had an age-adjusted COVID-19 hospitalization rate about 5.3 times that of non-Hispanic white people. COVID-19 hospitalization rates among non-Hispanic Black people and Hispanic or Latino people were both about 4.7 times the rate of non-Hispanic white people.

While there's no evidence that people of color have genetic or other biological factors that make them more likely to be affected by COVID-19, they are more likely to have underlying health conditions. Having certain conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, increases your risk of severe illness with COVID-19. But experts also know that where people live and work affects their health. Over time, these factors lead to different health risks among racial and ethnic minority groups.

Where you live and who you live with can make it challenging to avoid getting sick with COVID-19 and get treatment. For example, racial and ethnic minority members might be more likely to live in multi-generational homes, crowded conditions and densely populated areas, such as New York City. This can make social distancing difficult.

The type of work you do also may contribute to your risk of getting COVID-19. Many people of color have jobs that are considered essential or can't be done remotely and involve interaction with the public. In the U.S., according to the CDC nearly 25% of employed Hispanic and Black or African Americans work in the service industry, compared with 16% of non-Hispanic white workers. Black or African Americans also account for 30% of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses. Many people of color also depend on public transportation to get to work. These factors can result in exposure to the virus.

Your access to health care also affects your health risks. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to encounter barriers to getting care, such as a lack of health insurance or not being paid when missing work to get care. In 2017, according to the CDC only about 6% of non-Hispanic white people were uninsured, while the rate was nearly 18% for Hispanics and 10% for non-Hispanic Black people.

Racism may also play a role in health risks. The stress of dealing with racial discrimination can take a toll on your body, causing early aging. This has been linked to underlying conditions, which can increase the risk of severe illness with COVID-19.

All of these factors — underlying health conditions, dense living conditions, employment in the service industry or as an essential worker, access to health care and racism — contribute to the impact of COVID-19 on people of color. But these are long-standing issues. Research shows that people of color are often more greatly affected by public health emergencies, such as Hurricane Katrina.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need to promote the health and well-being of racial and ethnic minorities.

With

William F. Marshall, III M.D.

Aug. 13, 2020 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. After COVID-19 vaccination: Is it OK to visit with loved ones?
  2. Can COVID-19 (coronavirus) spread through food, water, surfaces and pets?
  3. COVID-19 and vitamin D
  4. Convalescent plasma therapy
  5. Coronavirus safety tips for going out
  6. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  7. COVID-19: How can I protect myself?
  8. Coronavirus grief
  9. Coronavirus vs. flu: Similarities and differences
  10. Cough
  11. Herd immunity and coronavirus
  12. COVID-19 and high blood pressure
  13. COVID-19 and pets
  14. COVID-19 and your mental health
  15. COVID-19 antibody testing
  16. COVID-19, cold, allergies and the flu
  17. COVID-19 and holidays
  18. COVID-19 (coronavirus) drugs: Are there any that work?
  19. COVID-19 (coronavirus) in babies and children
  20. Long-term effects of COVID-19
  21. COVID-19 (coronavirus) travel advice
  22. COVID-19 tests
  23. How well do face masks protect against coronavirus?
  24. COVID-19 (coronavirus): Quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing
  25. COVID-19 vaccine: Should I reschedule my mammogram?
  26. COVID-19 vaccines for kids: What you need to know
  27. COVID-19 vaccines
  28. COVID-19 variant
  29. COVID-19: Who's at higher risk of serious symptoms?
  30. Debunking coronavirus myths
  31. Diarrhea
  32. Different COVID-19 vaccines
  33. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)
  34. Fever
  35. Fever: First aid
  36. Fever treatment: Quick guide to treating a fever
  37. Honey: An effective cough remedy?
  38. How do COVID-19 antibody tests differ from diagnostic tests?
  39. How does COVID-19 affect people with diabetes?
  40. How to take your pulse
  41. How to measure your respiratory rate
  42. How to safely go to your doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic
  43. How to take your temperature
  44. How to talk to your kids about COVID-19
  45. Loss of smell
  46. Mayo Clinic Minute: You're washing your hands all wrong
  47. Mayo Clinic Minute: How dirty are common surfaces?
  48. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C)
  49. Nausea and vomiting
  50. Pregnancy and COVID-19
  51. Red eye
  52. Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic
  53. Safety tips for returning to school during COVID-19
  54. Sex and COVID-19
  55. Shortness of breath
  56. Telemedicine online doctor visits
  57. Teleworking during the coronavirus
  58. Thermometers: Understand the options
  59. Video: Travel safely for medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic
  60. Treating COVID-19 at home
  61. Unusual symptoms of coronavirus
  62. Watery eyes
  63. Fight coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission at home
  64. Contact tracing and COVID-19: What is it and how does it work?
  65. What's causing my infant's diarrhea?