Courtesy of The New York Academy of Sciences
COVID-19 ravaged the entire world and caused the deaths of millions of people. Every nation will forever remember the struggles the virus caused and the immense amount of loss. However, many communities in the United States have felt the impact of COVID-19 greater than others due to ongoing racial inequity within the healthcare system.
Overall, minorities within the United States faced far greater rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in comparison to white non-Hispanic persons at alarming rates. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans faced 2.8 times the amount of hospitalizations and two times the number of deaths than Caucasian people. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives faced 3.5 times the amount of hospitalizations and 2.4 times the number of deaths. Similar numbers have been reported by the CDC regarding Asians, Hispanics, and Latinos.
A study performed by John Hopkins Medicine revealed that in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, African Americans contributed to 70% of COVID-19 related deaths but only made up 26% of the county’s population.
The significant COVID-19 related death rate discrepancies between minorities and white people are due to a number of factors. Typically, minorities make up the majority of essential workers, such as jobs in factories and public transportation, due to their socioeconomic status. This means that minorities are facing more exposure on a consistent basis. In addition to the higher risk of contracting COVID-19 at work, minorities are more likely to spread COVID-19 due to their living situations.
For example, many African American and Hispanic people live in multigenerational households. According to the Pew Research Center, 29% of Asians, 27% of Hispanics, and 26% of African Americans live in multigenerational households in the United States. This causes crowded living conditions, which can prevent adequate hygiene measures and the ability to self isolate when necessary. As a result, those who live in multigenerational households become exposed to the virus more often than those who do not. The CDC reported that “Hispanic and Black adults were 60% more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to live in households with healthcare workers”, who are at extremely high risk of contracting COVID-19.
When COVID-19 afflicts minorities the inequity within the health care system exacerbates the already present issues within their communities. Throughout history, the United States has developed a foundation of distrust within the medical community with people of color due to a history of discriminatory patient-provider interactions and unequal treatment.
In 1932, the Tuskegee Institute monitored 600 African American men, some with syphilis and some without. Instead of treating them with penicillin, researchers provided no medical treatment which resulted in the death of many men and allowed for both spouses and offspring to contract the disease. This, along with other instances of discrimination within the health care system, helped to develop a deep-rooted wariness within the African American community, which was exemplified through the COVID-19 outbreak. When this lack of trust exists, people are less likely to seek out medical assistance when needed or trust the information being provided by the medical community. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on health issues, white people have received the Covid-19 vaccine at a 1.2 times higher rate than African Americans.
Latina women also faced unscrupulous interaction with the medical community through forced sterilizations. The Smithsonian Magazine reported that “in the first half of the 20th century approximately 60,000 people were sterilized under U.S. eugenics programs.” Young people of color within the working class were deemed “unfit” to reproduce and were targeted to be sterilized. Latinas and Hispanics, in particular, were sought after because they were “hyper fertile” and were institutionalized. During the time, Latina women were sterilized at a 59% higher rate than non-Latinas. Other ethnic minorities, such as African Americans, Native Americans, and other immigrants were also targets for sterilization.
In the present-day health care system, African Americans often face racism from their provider and are sometimes not treated equally with white patients. Countless patients around the nation have reported that they haven’t received the health care they need due to the color of their skin. This can be witnessed through the fact that pregnant African American women are dying at three to four times the rate of non-Hispanic white women and African American infants are dying at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white babies.
The apparent racism within the health care system throughout the United States’ history still enacts consequences today. Due to the inability of the healthcare system to leave bias and prejudice on the sidelines, minorities faced countless more deaths throughout the pandemic. In order for the lives of every United States citizen to be protected, the health care system needs to establish trust with all minorities.