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, hospital stays and death caused by the COVID-19 virus than white, non-Hispanic people. Non-Hispanic American Indians or Alaska Natives are 2.7 times more likely to need to stay in the hospital due to COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Non-Hispanic Black or African American people and Hispanic people are about twice as likely to need to stay in the hospital due to COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people.

Possible factors include:

  • Racism. Unfair and unjust treatment based on race, when it is a part of a culture, can play a part in poor health. Discrimination affects all aspects of health starting with the world around a person. It can also affect a person's access to a health care provider, proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • Other medical conditions. The stress of dealing with racial discrimination can take a toll on the body. This stress has been linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney or liver disease. Any of these diseases can raise the risk of severe illness with COVID-19.
  • Type of work. Having a job that is 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. in 2018, about 20% of employed Hispanic and Black men worked in the service industry. This is compared with 13% of either Asian American or non-Hispanic white men. Labor statistics from 2018 found that Black people made up about 36% of workers in nursing. But Black people were only 12% of the overall workforce in 2018.
  • Location. Where people live and who they live with can make it hard to avoid getting COVID-19. And it can cause difficulty getting treatment. People in racial and ethnic minority groups might be more likely to live in homes with many family members of various ages. They're also more likely to live in crowded conditions and heavily populated areas, such as New York City. This can make it hard to stay at a distance from others.
  • 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 some people don't get paid when they miss work to get care. In 2020, about 5% of non-Hispanic white people were uninsured, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The rate was about 18% for Hispanic people and about 10% for Black people.

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.

Oct. 06, 2022 See more Expert Answers

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