New data from state advisory group shows communities of color disproportionately affected by COVID-19

The breakdown shows Black and Hispanic communities are seeing higher rates of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths during the pandemic.

CAMBRIDGE, MA - 5/08/2020: Drive up test center by appointment at CHA East Cambridge Care Center, coronavirus testing during the COVID-19 pandemic. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff ) SECTION:  METRO TOPIC:
A drive up coronavirus testing center in East Cambridge. –David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

Data released from the state Department of Public Health on Friday shows the Black and Hispanic communities in Massachusetts have been disproportionately hit by the coronavirus

The department’s COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group found sharp differences in the rate of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for communities of color. The data revealed that Black and Hispanic residents have experienced a coronavirus-positive case rate that is three times higher than white residents. They also are seeing higher rates of hospitalization and death from the virus compared to the state’s white and Asian populations.

The advisory group found that while Hispanic residents make up about 12 percent of the state’s population, they represent about 29 percent of the total positive coronavirus cases in Massachusetts. Similarly, Black residents represent about 7 percent of the state’s population, but saw double that proportion in comprising about 14 percent of the COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. 

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Hospitalization rates for Black and Hispanic residents was likewise greater than their proportion in the population and they are seeing higher rates of death from the virus in every age group compared to white and Asian residents. 

The advisory group pointed out that nine out of 10 of the cities and towns with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections are also communities where more than half as the residents identify as a person of color. 

“We have long understood that racism is a public health issue that demands action, and the disproportionate impacts of this new disease on communities of color and other priority populations is the latest indicator change is necessary,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, who chaired the advisory group, said in a statement. “At the Department of Public Health, our mission is to eliminate health inequities and we place equity at the core of all that we do.”

Health experts and officials have repeatedly raised concerns in recent months that communities of color were being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with the coronavirus laying bare and exacerbating existing health and socio-economic inequities. 

In releasing their analysis of the data, the equity group released a series of recommendations to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color in Massachusetts. 

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“Our approach to COVID-19 and future health challenges should be to strengthen the underlying health of the Commonwealth,” Dr. Thea James, a member of group and vice president of mission and associate chief medical officer at Boston Medical Center, said in a statement. “We can do this by building resilient communities and taking a critical look at how systemic racism has influenced disinvestment in communities of color. These recommendations are a starting point for taking concrete next steps into action for a more equitable future.”

According to the state, key recommendations for moving forward include:

Data released from the state Department of Public Health on Friday shows the Black and Hispanic communities in Massachusetts have been disproportionately hit by the coronavirus

The department’s COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group found sharp differences in the rate of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for communities of color. The data revealed that Black and Hispanic residents have experienced a coronavirus-positive case rate that is three times higher than white residents. They also are seeing higher rates of hospitalization and death from the virus compared to the state’s white and Asian populations.

The advisory group found that while Hispanic residents make up about 12 percent of the state’s population, they represent about 29 percent of the total positive coronavirus cases in Massachusetts. Similarly, Black residents represent about 7 percent of the state’s population, but saw double that proportion in comprising about 14 percent of the COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. 

Hospitalization rates for Black and Hispanic residents was likewise greater than their proportion in the population and they are seeing higher rates of death from the virus in every age group compared to white and Asian residents. 

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The advisory group pointed out that nine out of 10 of the cities and towns with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections are also communities where more than half as the residents identify as a person of color. 

“We have long understood that racism is a public health issue that demands action, and the disproportionate impacts of this new disease on communities of color and other priority populations is the latest indicator change is necessary,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, who chaired the advisory group, said in a statement. “At the Department of Public Health, our mission is to eliminate health inequities and we place equity at the core of all that we do.”

Health experts and officials have repeatedly raised concerns in recent months that communities of color were being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with the coronavirus laying bare and exacerbating existing health and socio-economic inequities. 

In releasing their analysis of the data, the equity group released a series of recommendations to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color in Massachusetts. 

“Our approach to COVID-19 and future health challenges should be to strengthen the underlying health of the Commonwealth,” Dr. Thea James, a member of group and vice president of mission and associate chief medical officer at Boston Medical Center, said in a statement. “We can do this by building resilient communities and taking a critical look at how systemic racism has influenced disinvestment in communities of color. These recommendations are a starting point for taking concrete next steps into action for a more equitable future.”

The recommendations from the state include:

  • Continuing to disaggregate COVID data across populations and sectors, such as transit usage.
  • Increasing equitable distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers and Commonwealth residents in professions most at risk.
  • Implement policies that increase housing stability for populations disproportionally impacted by COVID-19.
  • Prioritizing investment in multilingual outreach to communities to increase access to testing, home and workplace protections, and access to state assistance programs.
  • Planning and implementing a strategy for the active engagement and representation of existing community based organizations in the most-impacted communities as part of decision-making processes related to COVID-19 response and recovery.

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