According to a recent analysis published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, Black individuals are twice as likely as White individuals to test positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Although this analysis is not the first to provide evidence of this issue, it does provide additional findings that show race is indeed a factor in the distribution of the effects of COVID-19 on American populations.

In the analysis, the results of 4413 individuals were assessed, of whom 17.8% tested positive. Among those who tested positive, 78.9% were Black, whereas 9.6% were White.

All of the participants included in the analysis had an average age of 46 years; however, on average, those infected were 52 years old, whereas those who tested negative were 45 years old on average.

Ayodeji Adegunsoye, MD, MS, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, explained in a press release that the findings showing the disparity in infection rates among White and Black populations is logical.

“I think this really amplifies how pre-existing socioeconomic and health care disparities affect outcomes in the population. We already know that the common comorbidities that have been associated with COVID-19, such as hypertension and diabetes, disproportionately affect the Black community. So, it wasn't too surprising that COVID-19 seemed to more commonly affect Black individuals as well," Adegunsoye said.

Additionally, given that Black individuals are more likely to be essential workers due to their overrepresentation in the service industry, they have an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, according to Adegunsoye.

"Even during precautionary lockdowns to reduce spread, these jobs were often deemed essential services, and included jobs such as bus drivers, janitors, city sanitation workers, hospital food production personnel, security guards, etc. So, it wasn't too surprising that Black people were disproportionately infected and subsequently hospitalized with the virus," Adegunsoye said.

The findings also support the reports of infection rates in the United States and elsewhere that show that individuals who are older are more likely to be affected by COVID-19 as well.

"We have observed that for various reasons, older individuals are more likely to develop severe symptoms when they get infected and, therefore, they are more likely to get tested for COVID-19," Adegunsoye said. "It's a vicious cycle of sorts, as older people are more likely to have hypertension and other comorbid diseases, which further increase the risk for hospitalization with COVID-19. Even after accounting for their older age, Black patients were still at significantly increased risk of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization."

Adegunsoye proposed that a way to address the disparity in COVID-19 infection rates is to make COVID-19 screenings free and accessible across the country. He added that he hopes COVID-19 will increase the policy decisions that result in greater funding for community-led prevention efforts.

Additionally, Adegunsoye explained that he hopes that there will be improved public engagement campaigns focused toward minorities in order to reduce their risk of developing hypertension and diabetes, which both increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Such policy decisions and improved public engagement campaigns, along with implementing strategic plans to reduce health inequities in the country, have the potential to improve the lives of all Americans.

REFERENCE
Black individuals at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, according to new research [news release]. American Thoracic Society; July 9, 2020. eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ats-bia070820.php. Accessed July 9, 2020.