Sep 16, 2020 - Health

The pandemic's racial disparities are bigger than health care

Reproduced from Kaiser Family Foundation; Chart: Axios Visuals

Racial disparities exist at every stage of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by Epic Health Research Network and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Why it matters: The more we learn about the coronavirus's disproportionate impact on people of color, the clearer it becomes that this is much more than just a health care problem.

The big picture: Non-white Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, more likely to suffer serious illness, more likely be hospitalized because of the virus, and more likely to die from it, the report found.

  • The study analyzed Epic's electronic health record data for around 50 million patients across 21 states.

By the numbers: Death rates for Black and Hispanic coronavirus patients were more than twice as high as the rate for white patients, and were at least twice as likely to test positive, even though testing rates didn't vary much by race or ethnicity.

  • Larger shares of people of color were tested in an inpatient setting — a sign that they'd been experiencing symptoms — and they were more likely to be sick enough to require oxygen or ventilation when diagnosed.

Between the lines: The higher coronavirus infection rate among people of color "likely reflects their increased risk of exposure to coronavirus due to their work, living, and transportation situations," per the report.

  • It notes that despite higher exposure to the virus, people of color don't get tested at higher rates than white people and concludes that "people of color may face increased barriers to testing that contribute to delays in them obtaining testing until they are in more serious condition."
  • Higher hospitalization and death rates for people of color aren't fully explained by individual socioeconomic factors or underlying health conditions, per the report. "This finding suggests that other factors, including racism and discrimination, are negatively affecting their health outcomes through additional avenues," it concludes.

The bottom line: The findings "illustrate the importance of considering a wide array of factors both within and beyond the health care system and addressing structural and systemic racism and discrimination as root causes as part of efforts to address health disparities," the authors write.

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