ORLANDO, Fla. — While African Americans make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 21 percent of COVID-19 related deaths, according to the latest CDC data.
What accounts for the disparity in who is dying from the disease? Here are five things to consider when it comes to health equity.
1. According to Nolan Kline, an assistant professor of anthropology at Rollins College who co-coordinates the Global Health Program, much ties back to social determinants and economic factors. “Think about, for example, the environments in which we live," said Kline. "Are we able to get exercise everyday or go out for a walk on a sidewalk? What happens if we live in a neighborhood where there aren’t sidewalks or go out safely?”
Orlando District 5 City Commissioner Regina Hill echoed that sentiment. “[The pandemic] did shine the light on those inequities, racial inequities, health inequities. We always knew there was underlying racism when it comes to economics and when it comes to health."
2. Communities of color are less likely to have adequate access to quality healthcare. Even leading factors for co-morbidities — ailments like asthma, diabetes and even heart disease, which disproportionately impact communities of color and increase likelihood of more dramatic outcomes from the disease — point back to social determinants, said Kline.
The public health expert gave the example of asthma. "Black and LatinX or Hispanic populations are more likely to live in areas with elevated levels of air pollution. That increases the risk of asthma."
3. During the pandemic, some jobs were deemed essential, thus increasing likelihood of contracting the virus. “This is such important work, but what it means is that these folks are going to be coming into contact with more people, and with that increases chance of transmission of COVID-19," said Kline.
People from some communities of color are disproportionately represented in essential work settings, like health care, farms, factories, grocery stores, and public transport, according to 2018 data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For some, like Luis Vasconcell, the fear of getting sick was outweighed by the necessity of helping his family get by. He donned a mask and worked as a cashier at a convenience store during the overnight hours. “I was just working there to help my mom with the little paycheck they were giving me,” he said.
4. Recent studies show that some populations, including African-Americans, have less likelihood of being able to work remotely, according to Kline. Only about one in five African-Americans are able to telework; Hispanic and LatinX populations, too, are less likely to be able to telework than white populations.
5. Kline said that solving the problem of health inequity takes collective action, such as investing in a health care system which makes services accessible and affordable to more people.