Skip to main content

34% of those who have died from the coronavirus are black despite only making up 13.4% of the U.S. population, according to analysis from John Hopkins. Additionally, 33% of hospitalizations related to the coronavirus are for members of the black community, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The poorer health outcomes that the black community is suffering from during this pandemic is a result of structural racism in the U.S. Communities of color experience a higher rate of comorbidities that weaken the immune system, including diabetes and obesity, according to Civil Eats.Researchers have found a relationship between increased obesity and diabetes with proximity to food swamps.

Food swamps are areas that have a high concentration of fast food establishments. Food deserts are areas that lack access to supermarkets that sell affordable and healthy food, according to John Hopkins Magazine.Communities of color are more likely to live near a food desert or food swamp and, as a result, at higher risk of experiencing the comorbidities encouraged by these resource starved areas.

“There’s also the psychological aspects of being Black in America and the environments of communities of color, where you have lack of access to care and disparities that exist in the healthcare system, including unconscious racial bias as it relates to COVID-19, since Blacks are less likely to be referred for testing in the healthcare system,” Daphene Altema-Johnson, the food communities and public health program officer at John Hopkins University said.

Communities of color also experience poorer access to healthcare and treatment more generally, leading to higher risk of death from the novel coronavirus. According to the National Healthcare Disparities Report, 35% of Latinos and low income respondents faced challenges in accessing needed healthcare treatment.

For those that are able to access treatment, delivery of treatment is also racially biased. Research has shown that doctors are racially biased when assessing pain of black patients, often underestimating the amount of pain that a black patient is experiencing. If a doctor is racially biased in assessing pain, they are also likely to be biased in assessing the discomfort that a patient of color might express when suffering from the coronavirus, leading the doctor to forgo suggesting a test.

Poorer screening outcomes have been observed in other diseases. African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer than their white counterparts, in part, because African American women are also less likely to get a mammography screening. The inequity that communities of color are experiencing in this pandemic have been observed in other deadly diseases and this inequity has also led to distrust of healthcare providers.

A qualitative study interviewing African Americans found that they are less likely to participate in medical research studies because of the unethical practices behind the Tuskegee syphilis study. In the study, African American men with syphilis were purposefully prevented from being given life-saving treatment. This mistrust, though well warranted, can lead to treatments that are less effective for vulnerable communities. If a research study primarily includes white people in its sample, then the resulting treatment will be most effective to that population, according to research cited in the Atlantic.