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In-Depth: UC San Diego study highlights the extent of COVID's racial disparities

COVID testing
Posted at 5:12 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 20:44:28-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Communities of color have been hit harder by COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, and a new study from UC San Diego highlights just how disproportional the impact has been.

UCSD researchers reviewed data on 4.3 million patients from 68 other studies through January 2021. The study, led by Dr. Weg Ongkeko, was published in JAMA Network Open.

They found African Americans were 3.54 times as likely to test positive compared to whites. Hispanics or Latinos were 4.68 times as likely to test positive as whites.

“Disadvantaged populations, they do get higher rates of COVID-19, but what we want to know is why,” said co-author Harrison Li.

The authors compared infection and ICU rates to metrics on the quality of housing, employment, education, access to healthcare, and more.

They found the factor that best predicted people’s COVID risk was income.

Individuals with lower-paying jobs may have greater occupational exposure and less flexibility to work remotely, Li said.

After adjusting for income, minority groups had much more similar infection rates to whites, Li said.

In general, the study found minorities in more economically disadvantaged neighborhoods had more risk of getting severely ill from COVID, but there were some exceptions.

In a surprising twist, Asian Americans living in wealthier counties had a higher risk of death from COVID compared to those in lower-income counties.

“That is one of the things that we do not have a clear answer for,” Li said. “We do have a hypothesis, which is that Asian Americans often work in health care.”

Job-related exposure risk might explain some of that finding, but the paper lists other potential factors like education and housing equality.

Overall, Asian Americans had the highest risk of winding up in the ICU with COVID among the minority groups studies, with 1.93 times the risk of whites. Latinos had an ICU risk 1.27 times that of whites. African-Americans had 1.08 times the risk.

The researchers found health insurance coverage and access to a primary care doctor also played a significant role in COVID risk, particularly among African-Americans and Latinos.

The UCSD study did not examine the impact on Native Americans because of a lack of data. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest Native Americans have even higher rates of COVID hospitalization and death than African Americans or Latinos.