Alert

Why are minorities disproportionately affected by COVID-19?

By Jamie M. Anthony, M.D.

Internist

Pardee Fletcher Medical Associates

While the COVID-19 pandemic has far-reaching effects across the world, one trend is particularly alarming: People of color are more likely to experience serious illness and death from the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these are the most common reasons racial and minority groups are unequally affected by the pandemic:

  • Housing. People from racial and ethnic minority groups may be more likely to live in crowded places or multigenerational households, which puts older people, in particular, at risk.
  • Health care. These groups may also have little or no access to quality health care, culturally and linguistically responsive care, and health insurance. Unequal treatment can also lead to distrust in health care and government systems.
  • Underlying health conditions. Research shows that in the United States, racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher rates of illness and death from conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, asthma and diabetes. These conditions can increase a person’s risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.
  • Education. People from racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face inequities in access to high-quality education.
  • Wealth and income. Those in racial and ethnic minority groups may carry more debt, have lower incomes and experience barriers to wealth accumulation. This can make it hard to afford reliable childcare, medical bills, quality housing and nutritious food. All of these issues can impact overall health.
  • Job conditions. People from racial and ethnic minority groups may be more likely to work in essential work settings, like health care, grocery stores, public transportation, factories, food production and farms. In these roles, they’re more likely to be exposed to the virus and be in close contact with the public or other workers because they can’t work from home. They also may not have benefits like paid sick days.
  • Stress. Studies show that stress can reduce the body’s immune system function. Factors like racism, income inequality, discrimination and violence can contribute to chronic stress, making people of color more vulnerable to illness.

These factors can increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19, severe illness, hospitalization, long-term effects from the virus and death.

What can people of color do to stay healthy?

While there is much work our country needs to do on a large, systemic scale to address the issues mentioned above, there are steps people of color can take to protect themselves now.

Keep following CDC guidelines. Whether or not you’ve been vaccinated, please continue to wear a mask in public, wash your hands often and practice social distancing. Avoid crowded places because the more people you’re around, the more likely you will be exposed to COVID-19.

Take care of your health. See your primary care provider for regular checkups. If you are ill or suspect you have COVID-19 and lack health insurance, there are options available within our community that are offered at a reduced or no cost.

Get the vaccine when it’s your turn. The best vaccine to get is the one that is available to you. COVID-19 vaccines are free, safe and available regardless of your immigration status or whether or not you have health insurance. It’s an important way to keep you and your loved ones healthy.

For resources and information on minority health, visit www.ncminorityhealth.org.

To learn more about COVID-19, visit www.pardeehospital.org.

To schedule a vaccine appointment, visit www.yourshot.org.

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