NATIONWIDE — The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented health and economic challenges for many, especially for the 120 million people in the United States living with cardiovascular disease, who early studies show already may be at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
Under-resourced communities, particularly Blacks, U.S. Hispanics and people living in rural areas may be dying of COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates as they are more likely to have underlying health conditions like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, are less likely to have access to quality healthcare, and are more likely to work unstable or frontline jobs.
Recent reports about COVID-19 “hotspots” in New York, Michigan, Illinois and Louisiana are supporting this alarming trend:
In Illinois, 58 percent of Cook County deaths from COVID-19 were Black though the population is 23 percent Black and 72 percent of Chicago deaths were Black patients though the city is 32 percent Black.
In New York City, Hispanics comprise 34 percent of all deaths even though they’re only 29 percent of the population. African Americans make up 28 percent of deaths, even though they’re only 22 percent of the population.
In Michigan, African Americans have died at more than eight times the rate of White people despite making up only 14 percent of the state’s population.
In Louisiana, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards, of the 512 coronavirus deaths so far, more than 70 percent were African American patients, who make up just 32 percent of the state’s population.
The disproportionate impact of the pandemic is shedding a national light on what health experts have known for decades — factors like access to health care, healthy food, education, and family income can affect outcomes for vulnerable populations.
Spectrum News anchor, Dr. Nicole Cross spoke with Dr. Regina Benjamin, the 18th Surgeon General of the United States, member of American Heart Association Board of Directors about reasons Blacks and U.S. Hispanics may be dying at a higher rate from COVID-19.
“Health disparities are much more prevalent in minority communities. It’s not a surprise to see coronavirus showing up in these vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Benjamin. “What we didn’t expect is that they would come to the hospital much sicker, getting sick much faster, and dying more often — and that’s what is really troubling,” she added.
Dr. Benjamin urged people of color to “know your numbers” and for health providers to “be much more aggressive when minority populations come in, knowing that they can get sick faster and that they can deteriorate very fast, and they die faster”.
The CDC recommends the following steps be taken to address the needs of communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Implement standardized protocols in accordance with CDC guidance and quality improvement initiatives, especially in facilities that serve large minority populations.
Identify and address implicit bias that could hinder patient-provider interactions and communication.
Provide medical interpretation services for patients who need them.
Work with communities and healthcare professional organizations to reduce cultural barriers to care.
Connect patients with community resources that can help older adults and people with underlying conditions adhere to their care plans, including help getting extra supplies and medications they need and reminders for them to take their medicines.
Learn about social and economic conditions that may put some patients at higher risk for getting sick with COVID-19 than others — for example, conditions that make it harder for some people to take steps to prevent infection.
Promote a trusting relationship by encouraging patients to call and ask questions.