Early on in the pandemic, many called COVID-19 a great equalizer, a virus that affects rich and poor, white, Black and brown people alike. New realities have come to light suggesting that while anyone might be infected, based on race, class and in certain cases, gender, the outcome of the disease will be vastly different.
Published earlier this month, a report by the Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, a data-driven bi-partisan policy organization, has pointed out the disproportionate hurdles people of color face during this ongoing global pandemic.
Researchers from the Guinn Center extensively studied data from Washoe County, Clark County and the Department of Health and Human Services. They found some clear indicators of the situation.
Nancy Brune, executive director of the center, explained to This Is Reno in a phone interview how COVID-19 has devastating outcomes for communities of color.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 from communities of color, especially Black and Latino, have been significantly more than the white population. The white population has had the lowest rate of hospitalizations of its infected members, only 120.2 hospitalizations per 100,000.
A larger number of whites are insured compared to people from communities of color, “which could mean access to early detection and prevention treatment,” said Brune.
In contrast, African Americans have the highest hospitalization rate, at 216.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 population, nearly double the rate of whites.
The hospitalization rate for Latinos is 207.2 per 100,000 population, followed by Asian and Pacific Islanders at 161.2 hospitalizations per 100,000 population.
People from communities of color “may have gone to the hospital when their symptoms were already extreme,” explained Brune. “The delay may have been caused by lack of insurance or access to primary care.”
The numbers mentioned here are from Clark County alone as Washoe County has not been prompt in providing its data for the research, said Brune. But, even then, the reports and data coming in from other parts of the country suggest similar trends of a higher rate of hospitalizations of patients from the communities of color, she said.
Brune also pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on hospitalizations support their findings about people of color.
The CDC says, “Hispanic or Latino persons and Non-Hispanic Black persons had age-adjusted hospitalization rates approximately 4.7 times that of non-Hispanic White persons,” on a national level. “The rate for non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native persons was approximately 4.6 times the rate among non-Hispanic White persons.”
Location, culture play a role
Location of the communities of color, access to clean water, nutritious food, grocery stores and health care facilities all play a major role in how the community will cope once the disease spreads.
American Indian tribes
In the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, movements outside the colony combined with a culture of gatherings and community warmth have been one of the drivers of infection.
“People go outside to stores and sometimes come back infected and show no symptoms,” said Bethany Sam, public information officer at the colony.
“A lot of our homes are multi-generational,” she said. “We have close ties with our first cousin, second cousin; we are a one big family. With that it’s very hard to separate our tribal people, especially when they are not showing any symptoms.
“At first, we were doing a really good job. We did do the mandatory curfew, put up checkpoints or access control points at each of the entrances of our reservations in mitigation efforts. Then as time went on there were birthday parties and social gatherings that had happened very innocently, and one or two infected people were there. That’s how it started.
“And everybody has health issues. Some of our elders, when they go to the hospital they risk being exposed there probably more so than when they go to the stores,” Sam said.
Latino and Black people
Within the Latino communities, immigration and visa situations make them leery of testing and even reporting sickness. Many don’t speak English. Language barriers have contributed to already inadequate health care, said the report.
Dr. Uche Blackstock, founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, a medical advocacy organization, told ABC News that hospitals and clinics in Black and colored neighborhoods are not equipped to handle critical patients. They may not have personal protective equipment (PPE) or intensive care units. The Guinn report’s findings are consistent with such observations.
Poor nutrition creates vulnerability
The role of nutrition is significant, as it is linked to underlying health conditions which increase the risk of catching COVID-19, said Brune.
“According to CDC guidelines, underlying health conditions make people more vulnerable to COVID-related illnesses; two of these health conditions directly linked with nutrition are diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Brune added.
In Nevada, Latinos and African Americans have a higher rate of diabetes, which according to Brune “is very much linked to nutrition.” She also pointed out that many people of color live “in a food desert, [not] having access to healthy fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.”
Amid communities of color, cardiovascular diseases and deaths are more common than others and have a connection with poor nutrition. “Interestingly, whites and American Indians have higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease, but African Americans have higher cardiovascular mortality rates,” Brune said. “So, I think that can also be related to nutrition, high blood pressure, not eating, eating greasy food, highly salted food. So, nutrition has a link with COVID infection.”
Women of color infected more than others
A majority of the essential workers defined as “frontline workers” are women, said the report. Essential jobs are in sectors including janitorial services, public transit, trucking, warehouses, postal services, health care, child care and social services.
Extrapolating from the report and the latest available State data, one may say that a large number of infected women (52% of total confirmed COVID cases) belong to communities of color as the essential work sectors employ a very large number of workers from the communities of color.
A Center for American Progress report explained that women of color are especially vulnerable during this pandemic as the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic are heaping financial strife and a lack of adequate safety options “on top of existing inequities [such as racism, language barriers, low wages] that have long undermined the economic status of women of color.”
This Is Reno has previously reported on disproportionate COVID-19 deaths in Nevada’s communities of color. Analyses of both death rates and number of deaths show that the virus is affecting the communities of color more compared to their white neighbors.
“Whites account for 51.3 percent of deaths, which is roughly equivalent to their representation in the population,” the Guinn Center reported. “Latinos, which represent 30 percent of Nevada’s population, account for 22.2 percent of deaths. American Indians represent 1.1 percent of Nevada’s population and account for 0.9 percent of COVID-19 deaths.”
But Asians account for 12.4% of deaths and represent 9.9% of Nevada’s population, while Blacks account for 11.9% of deaths but comprise 8.9% of the population.
By no means, is Nevada a standalone. The Silver State is mirroring a national trend.
As early as April 7, at a press conference, President Trump said that he had received reports of “increased impact” on African American communities, that “it’s showing up very strongly on our data,” and “we are actively engaging on the problem of increased impacts.”
Asked if initiatives have been taken by the administration to address the disproportionate deaths, Brune said that she is not aware of any, either on a national or state level.
This is the second in a series of reports by This Is Reno on a new report by the Guinn Center, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color in Nevada,” released Sept. 2, 2020. Read the first article, “Report: Nevada’s communities of color, essential workers are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.“
Sudhiti (Shu) Naskar is a multimedia journalist and researcher who has years of experience covering international issues. In the role of a journalist, she has covered gender, culture, society, environment, and economy. Her works have appeared on BBC, The National, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Reno Gazette-Journal, Caravan and more. Her interests lie in the intersection of art, politics, social justice, education, tech, and culture. She took a sabbatical from media to attend graduate school at the University of Nevada Reno in 2017. In this period, she has won awards, represented her school at an international conference and successfully defended her thesis on political disinformation at the Reynolds School of Journalism where she earned her Master’s in Media Innovation.