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Studies confirm social, environmental factors driving COVID-19 racial disparities

Recent studies confirm that social and environmental factors, rather than underlying health conditions, are the reason for racial disparities in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths (Source: “Social Inequities Explain Racial Gaps in Pandemic, Studies Find,” New York Times, Dec. 9).

The new findings do not contradict an enormous body of research showing that Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be affected by the pandemic, compared with white people. The coronavirus is more prevalent in minority communities, and infections, illnesses and deaths have occurred in these groups in disproportionate numbers.

But the new studies do suggest that there is no innate vulnerability to the virus among Black and Hispanic Americans, experts said. Instead, these groups are more often exposed because of social and environmental factors.

A study of more than 11,000 New York patients in March and April found that, among many other vulnerabilities, Black and Hispanic communities and households tend to be more crowded; many people work jobs requiring frequent contact with others and rely on public transportation. Access to health care is poorer than among white Americans, and rates of underlying conditions are much higher. The study found that Black patients accounted for 76.9 percent of those hospitalized with Covid-19, although they made up just 31 percent of the health system’s population.

study of patients in Veterans Affairs hospitals found that underlying health conditions had no impact on fatality rates among Black and Hispanic Patients. In the study, nine of 1,000 white veterans had a positive coronavirus test, compared with 16.4 of 1,000 among Black patients. 

These disparities found in both studies are entirely explained by socioeconomic factors, researchers said.