Racial Disparities in COVID-19

Data and Metrics Social and Racial Justice

You’ve talked a lot about racial disparities in COVID19. What do you mean by disparities, and what does this actually look like for COVID19?

A: A health disparity when we see a preventable difference in health outcomes when we compare a socially or economically disadvantaged group to a more advantaged one. So for example, when we look at the death rate for COVID19 cases by race, we see a lot more deaths per person among Blacks than among whites. That is a racial health disparity.

And it’s a big one.

Black people in America die of COVID19 at 2.4 times the rate for whites, and 2.2 times the rate for Asians and Latinx people. The relative death rates for Native Americans are unknown in most places due to very limited data, but in the states that are reporting them, the gap is dramatic. In New Mexico, for example, the Native death rate is 8x that of whites.

From this recent report from APM Research lab: “Black Americans represent 13% of the population in all areas in the U.S. releasing COVID mortality data, but they have suffered 25% of deaths.”
To put that into real numbers, in the United States so far, 55 in 100,000 Blacks have died from COVID19. Compare that to 23 per 100,000 deaths among whites, 25 per 100,000 among Latinx, and 24 per 100,000 for Asians.

These differences vary depending on location. In some places, more than 1 in 1,000 Black residents have died of COVID-19.

You can use the APM Research Lab’s online tool to explore the race-specific mortality data they have compiled and see what the gap looks like in your state.

A couple of caveats for these data: First, they are incomplete. Right now about 9% of COVID19 deaths have no race reported. Second, these data are not age-adjusted. We already know that as people age, their risk of death from COVID19 goes up. So if there is also a difference in the average age of two race groups, then we would expect to see corresponding differences in their death rates that have nothing to do with race. However, the white population is actually older than the Black population on average–and thus more at risk for COVID19 deaths. Similarly, the white population is older than the Latinx population. So if we did adjust for age, what we would see is a larger disparity–not a smaller one.

The report doesn’t dig into why these disparities exist, but if you scroll through our recent posts here at Dear Pandemic, I hope you’ll find a lot of context for understanding how race shapes health outcomes across so many domains, including the pandemic.

Another take here

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