She agreed that the inequities laid bare by the pandemic are likely related to both jobs and housing.
“People of color are often not able to socially distance and protect themselves,” Zephyrin said. And if a job does not allow paid sick leave, she added, employees may have to go to work even when they are unwell.
Hispanic patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were often younger, the study found. Of those ages 18 to 44, more than 61% tested positive — compared with about 28% of both white and Black patients in that age group.
Partly because they skewed younger, Hispanic patients were somewhat less likely to be hospitalized: 29% were, versus roughly 40% of Black and white patients, the investigators found.
Other research, though, has shown that people of color are disproportionately suffering the most severe consequences of COVID-19.
In their own analysis from April, Zephyrin and her colleagues found that death rates from COVID-19 were higher in U.S. counties with larger-than-average Black populations.
Early in the U.S. pandemic, Zephyrin noted, little data was being collected on patients’ race and ethnicity, making it difficult to understand the impact on communities of color. That has gotten better, she said, but there is still room for improvement.
In the midst of a pandemic, though, responses have to be quick, even when data are imperfect. Page said that engaging local community organizations has been essential to reach traditionally marginalized groups.
“They’re not only trusted sources of information, they also make it real,” Page said. Advice on social distancing, for example, may hold more weight when it’s coming from someone living in the community.
According to Zephyrin, paid sick leave, free SARS-CoV-2 testing, and better funding for “safety net” hospitals — which provide care regardless of patients’ ability to pay — are some measures that could help.
More broadly, she said, the pandemic has thrown a spotlight on longstanding racial inequities, in health care and other institutions.
WebMD News from HealthDay
SOURCES: Kathleen Page, M.D., associate professor, medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; Diego Martinez, Ph.D., assistant professor, emergency medicine, Johns Hopkins University Malone Center for Engineering in Healthcare, Baltimore; Laurie Zephyrin, M.D., MPH, MBA, vice president, health care delivery system reform, Commonwealth Fund, New York City;Journal of the American Medical Association, June 18, 2020, online
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