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Study finds U.S. political divides may explain reduced racial disparities in COVID deaths

New evidence suggests that the shrinking gap in U.S. COVID-19 racial death disparities is being driven by political division and increasing total deaths — mostly among white people — rather than by decreasing deaths among Black Americans (Source: “Study: US political divide may help explain shrinking racial COVID death gap,” Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, Nov. 1).

According to a new University of Wisconsin and UCLA study published in PLOS One, Black people still bear a larger COVID-19 death burden than white people, despite a relatively younger population, but suggest that a wider political chasm likely drove more deaths in the latter group as the pandemic evolved.

Researchers examined COVID-19 death disparities since the early months of the pandemic when Black Americans had far higher death rates than their white peers.

Black and Hispanic Americans are much more likely to work in jobs that must be done in person, leading to much higher exposure to the virus. "That didn't change as the racial differences in the mortality rate shifted," lead author Adeline Lo said. "Other factors — like geographical distribution, healthcare access, income equality — that contributed to the initial higher rate of Black deaths didn't go away either."

What did change was that levels of concern about COVID and adherence to protective public health measures (eg, lockdowns, closures, prohibitions on gathering) widened along political lines, with increasing deaths among white Americans. After initially issuing similar state mandates in the first few weeks of the pandemic, within one month, Republican-controlled states began lifting public health restrictions, lessening virus containment and leading white deaths to surpass those of Black people from April to October 2020.