One Analyst’s Reaction to the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color: Part 1
by Brian Gillard
Per the COVID Tracking Project at the Atlantic:
- African Americans are 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than Caucasians
- Counties that are majority-Black have an infection rate that’s 3 times higher than the norm and a death rate that’s 6 times higher than the norm
When I first read these sobering stats and others like them on the impact COVID-19 has had on the Black community, I felt sad and angry. In light of the racial strife that’s at the forefront of the country’s consciousness, these stats hit me even harder. It made me really ruminate on what I read. As I was doing so, I began asking myself questions such as, is this data right? Is the virus really impacting my community this much or is this data telling only telling part of the story? If it’s only telling part of the story, is the whole story better than what I read? Is it worse?
African Americans are 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than Caucasians.
Before I knew it, I was doing what analysts do when we wonder about things: ask questions and then look for answers. In other words, I began analyzing.
Aside from gathering as much data as we can, analysts generally do three more things to fully analyze a topic or issue.
- Learn as much as possible about the topic or issue so that we can analyze it in its proper context
- Take another look at the data we’ve gathered with the knowledge and context that we now have and determine if it makes sense or aligns with what we now know
- Dig deeper to find causes and trends to glean insights
Since I already had some data, here’s how I tackled the other three parts to answer the questions I had.
Counties that are majority-Black have an infection rate that’s 3 times higher than the norm and a death rate that’s 6 times higher than the norm.
Putting the issue in its proper context
After looking at the stats again, I noticed that it was missing something vital: context or background that would help to explain the higher rates. Without it, anyone who looks at them could assume that people in this community may not be as careful or concerned about the spread of the virus as other communities.
Being a part of the community, I knew that this wasn’t the case. What I did know was that, historically when something affects this community disproportionately, it’s usually a byproduct of the realities and resulting behaviors that come from being a member of the community. I started to look at the data from this context or lens.
A byproduct of living in substandard conditions, which is the case for many people in this community (as well as other communities of color), is a higher probability of developing a chronic disease. Since having a pre-existing condition or a chronic disease makes people more susceptible to catching COVID, finding out that infection rates are higher in this community shouldn’t come as a shock.
Taking the realities and behaviors into account, does the data make sense?
I’d say that it definitely does based on the above. Wouldn’t you?
Dig deeper to find out more specifics about the cause
So the question now is, what specific aspects of living in these communities could be making chronic disease more prevalent? Well, inequities in key social determinants of health, such as lack of access to quality food and health care, as well as living and working in higher-risk neighborhoods and physical environments, seem to play a big role.
Lack of access to quality food choices and food instability leads to poor dietary habits and an increased probability of developing chronic disease. A higher likelihood of African Americans being uninsured, per the 2018 US Census, limits the amount of quality healthcare options available. This either prevents or makes many in the community avoid going to the doctor, leaving potentially serious health issues that can lead to chronic disease unchecked.
Lack of access to quality food choices and food instability leads to poor dietary habits and an increased probability of developing chronic disease.
In terms of neighborhoods and physical environments, they lead to a higher exposure to the virus in a few ways. Living in more concentrated dwellings puts them in contact with more people, increasing their chances of catching or spreading it. Also, people in this community have a higher likelihood of being essential employees, putting them in close contact with the virus on an almost daily basis.
Living in more concentrated dwellings puts them in contact with more people, increasing their chances of catching or spreading it.
So this is how I reacted emotionally and then rationally to a disturbing issue: instead of my rational reaction counteracting my emotional ones, I found that it actually reinforced them. It also helped me to think of ways that changes could be made, which is the goal of any good analysis.
Continue reading part 2 of this blog where we provide recommendations for how to improve the relationship between healthcare providers and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.