Why are people of color more at risk of being affected by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

Answer From Daniel C. DeSimone, M.D.

Overall, racial and ethnic minorities in the United States have had higher rates of infection and death caused by the COVID-19 virus than white people.

These differences have lessened at times during the course of the pandemic, but still exist.

Non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native people are 3.1 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Non-Hispanic Black or African American people and Hispanic people are both more than twice as likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people.

Possible factors include:

  • Other medical conditions. Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Asian American people are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Having certain conditions, such as diabetes, increases the risk of severe illness with COVID-19.
  • Type of work. Having a job that's considered essential, can't be done remotely or involves public interaction can increase exposure to and the risk of getting the COVID-19 virus. In the U.S., nearly 25% of employed Hispanic, Black and African American people work in the service industry. This is compared with 16% of non-Hispanic white workers, according to the CDC. Black and African American people also account for 30% of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses. Many people of color also depend on public transportation to get to work, which also can expose them to the COVID-19 virus.
  • Location. Where people live and who they live with can make it hard to avoid getting COVID-19 and cause difficulty getting treatment. People in racial and ethnic minority groups might be more likely to live in multigenerational homes, crowded conditions and densely populated areas, such as New York City. This can make social distancing difficult.
  • Access to health care. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face barriers to getting care. For example, some people may not have health insurance or don't get paid when missing work to get care. In 2019, only about 6% of non-Hispanic white people were uninsured, according to the CDC. However, the rate was nearly 19% for Hispanics and 10% for non-Hispanic Black people.
  • Racism. The stress of dealing with racial discrimination can take a toll on the body, causing early aging. This has been linked to other medical conditions, which can increase the risk of severe illness with COVID-19.

Research also 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 members of racial and ethnic minority groups.


Daniel C. DeSimone, M.D.

April 29, 2022 See more Expert Answers

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