Racial Disparities in Mass. COVID Deaths Are Widest among Younger Adults.
Racial Disparities in Mass. COVID Deaths Are Widest among Younger Adults
COVID-19 mortality rates for Black and Hispanic residents of all ages are higher than mortality rates for White residents, with rates up to 3 times higher for working-aged adults, according to a new School of Public Health analysis for The Boston Globe.
Two years into the pandemic, Black and Hispanic communities continue to be disproportionately burdened by COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. A new analysis by School of Public Health researchers has found that COVID-19 death rates in Massachusetts are higher among Hispanic and Black residents than White residents in every adult age group—but particularly among younger adults in their prime parenting and professional years, where rates are up to 3 times higher.
Jonathan Levy, chair and professor of environmental health, working with a team of faculty members, staff, and students in the Departments of Environmental Health (EH) and Biostatistics, developed the analysis at the request of The Boston Globe. The data served as the basis for a recent article in The Globe that examined disproportionate COVID mortality rates in the Commonwealth, and the families whose lives have been permanently altered.
Working with datasets from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that were obtained by The Boston Globe, the researchers examined death counts of confirmed and probable COVID cases from January 1, 2020 through January 11, 2022. While the state reports death rates by age and by race/ethnicity separately, because mortality rates differ substantially by age, the researchers calculated rates stratified across both age and race/ethnicity. They found that Hispanic and Black residents were disproportionately impacted across every adult age group—especially among residents ages 20-49. For residents over 80 years old, the Black and Hispanic mortality rates were closer to the White rates, but still elevated. The mortality rate among non-Hispanic Asian residents was lower across all age groups, in comparison to non-Hispanic White residents.
This is attributable in part to wide racial/ethnic disparities in COVID case rates, including 34 cases per 100 people among Hispanic residents, but only 13 cases per 100 people among White residents.
“Who is exposed is a big part of the story,” Levy says. “Clearly there are also elements related to chronic health conditions for which there are racial/ethnic disparities, as well as things like access to healthcare and vaccination or booster status, but the exposure disparity plays an important role. This is unfortunately not surprising, given differences in job activities by race/ethnicity—for example, there was a lot of discussion early in the pandemic about the large number of essential workers in cities like Chelsea.”
In the 20-49 age range, the mortality rate was nearly three times higher among Hispanics (at 4.2 deaths per 10,000 people) and 2.5 times higher among Blacks (3.6 deaths per 10,000 people) than Whites (at 1.4 deaths per 10,000 people). Among the same age group, the mortality rate for Asians was 0.9 deaths per 10,000 people.
The analysis also showed that national COVID mortality trends were similar to Massachusetts rates, except that Blacks in younger age groups had a higher rate of COVID deaths per capita than Hispanics.
Levy says more individual-level data are needed to better understand why certain Massachusetts residents are more likely to contract and die from COVID.
“It would be nice to have data on things like occupation, so we could know at the individual level which occupational groups were at highest risk and whether this explains some of the racial/ethnic disparities,” Levy says, adding that many communities are providing support through multiple programs, but it is difficult for them to address high-risk workplaces. “Individual-level data on comorbidities would also be valuable, and housing data would also be important given the role of within-household transmission.”
Other members of the SPH community who are part of the COVID-19 research team are r Patricia Fabian, associate professor of environmental health; Kevin Lane and Jessica Leibler, assistant professors of environmental health; Prasad Patil, assistant professor of biostatistics; Keith Spangler and Koen Tieskens, research scientists in EH; Fei Carnes, GIS/systems science research analyst in EH; EH doctoral students Paige Brochu and Beth Haley; and MS student Xiaojing Peng.
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