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Racial Equity and COVID-19

May 12, 2020

Virus Outbreak RaceThe ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is stressing our health care system, our economy, and parents trying to teach their children at home. It is also highlighting significant racial disparities in access to quality health care.

According to an April survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, black and Hispanic people are more likely than white people to know someone who has been seriously impacted by the virus.1 In New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States for several weeks, the mortality rate from the virus was twice as high among black and Hispanic people than the rate among white people.2

There have been similar patterns in Chicago,3 Milwaukee,4 and Louisiana.5 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights three major reasons for the disparities.

  1. Living conditions: Members of racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in communities with less access to groceries and other basic goods, and therefore have to rely on public transportation. They are also more likely to live in densely populated communities and in multi-generational households.
  2. Work circumstances: In major urban centers, critical or “essential” workers are more likely to be members of racial and ethnic minorities. Furthermore, many black and Hispanic people are employed in positions that do not offer paid sick leave.
  3. Underlying health and health care conditions: Hispanic and black people are three times and twice as likely, respectively, to be uninsured as white people. Black people experience higher mortality rates than white people generally and have a higher rate of chronic or underlying conditions.6

Learn more about the connection between residential segregation and health

In addition to these structural issues that the CDC highlights, some argue that racism itself is partially to blame. A recent study indicates that racism in medical school may influence whether newly graduated doctors go to work in underserved communities.7 Furthermore, microaggressions—subtle expressions of racism and bias that people of color face in their daily lives—lead to stress and have an impact on health outcomes, according to recent research.8

Clearly, the disparities that we are seeing in the impacts of COVID-19 are not new. However, it is possible that the pandemic will give these issues new attention and help them gain an increased sense of urgency. The roots of this problem run deep and connect to many other issues facing the United States.

Discussion Questions

  1. Did it surprise you to learn that the health impacts of COVID-19 are different by race? Why or why not?
  2. How high a priority should it be to address these issues during the outbreak?
  3. How high a priority should it be after the outbreak?
  4. What kinds of solutions would you propose to address the issues described here?




[1] Pew Research Center:
[2] New York City Health Department:
[3] National Public Radio:
[4] US News & World Report:
[5] CNN:
[6] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
[7] The Nation’s Health:
[8] Center for Health Journalism:


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