Race, COVID-19 Mortality, and Why Is the U. S. Mortality So High?

There is a strong racial disparity in the mortality due to COVID-19. Blacks and Hispanics have much higher mortality rates than whites. For just how great a disparity, consider these findings by APM Research Lab:

  • Black Americans continue to experience the highest overall actual COVID-19 mortality rates— more than twice as high as the rate for Whites and Asians, who have the lowest actual rates.
  • Adjusting the data for age differences in race groups widens the gap in the overall mortality rates between all other groups and Whites, who have the lowest rate. Compared to Whites, the latest U.S. age-adjusted COVID-19 mortality rate for:
    • Blacks is 3.7 times as high
    • Indigenous people is 3.5 times as high
    • Pacific Islanders is 3.1 times as high
    • Latinos is 2.8 times as high
    • Asians is 1.4 times as high.

I realize that it is an article of faith for some that the disparity is entirely due to racism in one form or another but that does not seem to be the case. As I have pointed out before, the findings of an NBER researcher found that the disparity remained even when you controlled for education, occupation, commuting patterns, or access to health care.

As I have said for some time, I think that differences in susceptibility and mortality due to COVID-19 are multi-factorial and include not only age, access to health care, income, and occupation but that there are non-occupational behavioral and genetic factors as well. I think we need to address all of the controllable factors that lead to increased numbers of blacks dying of COVID-19 and not just those we’re comfortable with. We also need to consider the possibility of racial variation in treatment strategies. Taboos do no one any good.

In Illinois the deaths per 100K population for blacks has been 141 while for whites it has been 35. That’s just about the same for whites as Ireland or the Netherlands although not as good as Germany. In California the death rate due to COVID-19 among whites has been about the same as Germany’s. But the death rate in Illinois per 100K population has been worse than that of not just any European country but any country in the world. What that suggests is that, if Illinois is to lower its death rate due to COVID-19, we need to pay more attention to racial disparities not less.

5 comments… add one
  • Grey Shambler Link

    If you could cross reference the data with rates of diabetes, which goes hand in hand with obesity first and age second, we know NA s are more susceptible, and therefore Mexicans and Latin Americans not of European ancestry. I believe those from African ancestry follow this trend also.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    I think Grey is onto something here.

    The prevalence of diabetes is 2x among African Americans / Hispanics, and given COVID mortality risk is 2-3x among those with “metabolic syndrome” issues (diabetes, CVD); it is an explanation that fits.

    But let’s go one level deeper; why do these minorities have 2x-3x the risk in metabolic syndrome?

    I don’t know how one addresses this issue. At one level the “fix” for metabolic syndrome issues is well known — lose weight. But the nationwide obesity rate has been rising for decades despite all attempts to address it.

  • Greyshambler Link

    Living with a food surplus is brand new for most peoples on earth, they haven’t had time to adapt.
    Sadly this is part of the adaptation. Individuals don’t adapt, species do.

  • Drew Link

    Although I think Dave’s multi-factorial observation is correct, I’ll bet Grey’s got the dominant variable. Look at who is third on the list: Pacific Islanders.

  • But let’s go one level deeper; why do these minorities have 2x-3x the risk in metabolic syndrome?

    Among Meso-Americans it has been speculated that the disorder is a consequence of a genetic adaptation to a diet with fewer calories than Europeans require. When they adopt a more Europeanized diet they develop various metabolic problems. See also here and here.

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