September 17, 2020

More than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 virus on minorities and the poor has been thoroughly reported.

It’s well-established that Black residents and Hispanic residents are roughly 2.5 times more likely to get the virus than white residents, more likely to die from it — and that the disparities vary significantly from state to state and county to county.

Some of the more detailed coronavirus reporting now focuses on subsets of Black and Hispanic residents, other minority groups and particular populations of the poor. Here are six stories that caught our eye over the last several weeks, and nearly all of them can be reported in virtually any community.

1. The impact on older Black residents

While there are plenty of stories about the impact of the virus on Black residents and on older Americans, Kaiser Health News took a deep look at older Black residents. Its analysis found Black residents ages 65 to 74 died of COVID-19 five times as often as white residents. In the 75-to-84 group, the death rate for Black residents was 3 1/2 times greater. Among the contributing factors discussed in the story: preexisting health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, skepticism about doctors and the medical community, and living in intergenerational households.

2. The impact on majority Black nursing homes

In another look at the same population, The Washington Post reported on the struggles of majority Black nursing homes. The federal government doesn’t track Black nursing home residents, but the Post’s analysis of about 11,000 nursing homes in more than two dozen states found the death rate was more than 20% higher in majority-Black facilities than in majority-white nursing homes. The death rate was 40% higher in nursing homes where at least seven in 10 residents were Black.

3. The impact on specific ethnic groups

The state of Florida tracks COVID-19 cases among Hispanic residents but not other ethnic groups. So the Miami Herald examined trends among South Florida’s Haitian residents by looking at locally available death statistics and interviewing community leaders. It found a disproportionate impact that is difficult to measure in numbers and likely underreported. Among the contributing factors: working jobs that can’t be performed at home, cultural issues that include the fear of stigma attached to the virus, and frustration with insufficient outreach in Creole.

4. The mortality rate for people without homes

This one cuts against the grain. It made sense to expect Los Angeles’ large population of homeless people to be a virus hot spot. Advocates for people without housing were calling the encampments a “time bomb.’’ Yet the Los Angeles Times reported in August that the mortality rate from the virus among the city’s homeless people was comparable or better than the rate for the overall population. One potential reason: People without housing are generally outside, where droplets containing the virus more easily disperse. “People down here are quarantined already,” said Natosha Smith, a volunteer at the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

5. The impact on Asian residents

Here’s another area ripe for more state and local reporting: the impact of the virus on Asian residents, who have received less attention than other minority residents in many communities. The American Journal of Public Health in its September issue highlights an increase in xenophobia and discriminatory attacks since the virus began spreading in the United States. While Asians are a smaller portion of the population than Black or Hispanic residents in most states, they also have been disproportionately affected by the virus in roughly 20 states.

6. The impact on child care providers

Public schools and universities aren’t the only ones struggling to deal with the pandemic. The Texas Observer reported that roughly a quarter of the state’s child care providers were closed as of mid-August. That exacerbates a shortage of child care slots that existed before the pandemic, particularly for working parents. Seven of 10 low-income children with working parents already lived in areas in the state without subsidized child care, and essential workers nationwide are more likely to be Black or Hispanic.

Tim Nickens recently retired as editor of editorials for the Tampa Bay Times. He and a colleague won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing that successfully persuaded Pinellas County to resume adding fluoride to drinking water. The decision to stop fluoridation was a health risk to the poor and those without access to dental care.

Poynter Institute researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. It is part of a series funded by a grant from the Rita Allen Foundation to report and present stories about the disproportionate impact of the virus on people of color, Americans living in poverty and other vulnerable groups.

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Tim Nickens recently retired as editor of editorials for the Tampa Bay Times and can be reached at tim.nickens@gmail.com.
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