How Racial and Socioeconomic Factors Impact Health: COVID-19

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How Racial and Socioeconomic Factors Impact Health: COVID-19

Lower-income populations and communities of color face significant health disparities—from higher rates of chronic conditions to a lower percentage of individuals with health insurance to facing significantly limited access to care. These factors have put them at higher risk for catching the virus and suffering from related complications.

For example, housing conditions can dramatically influence our risk for contracting COVID-19. Poor housing conditions often result in decreased sanitation, overcrowding, and a decreased ability to physically distance. Essential jobs that require in-person attendance are commonly disproportionally worked by the economically disadvantaged and immigrant population. Worse, many people with lower incomes rely on public transportation for job attendance, thereby increasing physical contact and risk for COVID-19 transmission.

Black and Hispanic workers make up a higher proportion of this “essential worker” population and are more likely to live in multigenerational homes where it is more difficult to isolate from at-risk relatives, creating a compounding of risk factors. These risk factors include: housing and employment status, access to health insurance, and more. The chronic stressors of living and working as an immigrant in America compounded with these additional factors put immigrants at high-risk for contracting COVID-19.

In New York City, America’s once largest COVID-19 hotspot, the impact of the virus (both in cases and in deaths) has been disproportionately concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color. In a recent briefing, Governor Cuomo released that approximately 27% of antibody tests taken in low-income communities came back positive, compared to 19.9% of those taken from the general population. Furthermore, The Bronx, the borough with the highest proportion of racial and ethnic minorities, the most people living in poverty, and the lowest levels of education—had higher rates of COVID-19 related hospitalization and death than the other boroughs.

Moving Forward

As COVID-19 continues to spread, it could worsen dramatically in areas of the United States that have not yet seen major outbreaks, but have high rates of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and other chronic health conditions. These areas, including large parts of the South and Appalachia are especially vulnerable and will likely require community outreach and contact tracing.

Historically, during widespread public health emergencies, severe illness and death tends to be more likely among racial and ethnic minority groups. Identifying high-risk communities could help policymakers better anticipate future outbreaks so they can prepare to keep people in these populations safe through targeted interventions and widespread affordable testing.

The key to keeping COVID-19 infection and death rates low high-risk patients is keeping the infection rate low overall. Once the disease is in a community, it has the potential to become devastating, so it’s imperative to continue following public health guidelines to keep you and your loved ones safe.


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