Some sources are calling COVID-19 the “great equalizer”—but this is unrealistic. While anyone can get the virus, people are impacted differently. As more data becomes available, we’re learning there are huge racial disparities in who is getting sickest—and who is dying.
Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, says, “Every major crisis or catastrophe hits the most vulnerable communities the hardest.” Structural inequities are to blame for the alarming statistics.
In Louisiana, 70% of people who have died from COVID-19 were Black, despite Black people comprising 32% of Louisiana’s population. Similarly in Chicago, 72% of people who have died were Black, though only 30% of the city’s population is Black.
Latinx people and Native Americans are also getting sick at disproportionate rates. In New York City, 34% of deaths have been Latinx people, higher than NYC’s Latinx population. As of April 10th, two Native American pueblos in New Mexico were the hardest hit by COVID-19 of any US county.
Lack of access to healthcare, racial biases in healthcare, housing inequality, minority stress, and likelihood of working a public-facing job are all factors. A CDC survey found that 16% of Black Americans, 20% of Latinx people and 17% of Native Americans reported not being able to afford a doctor’s visit in the year prior to the survey. Black Americans were twice as likely as white Americans to lack health insurance. Latinx people were four times as likely.
Studies have also found that when People of Color do receive care, it is more likely to be poorer quality because of racial bias. Latinx immigrants may also avoid doctor’s visits for fear of deportation.
With lack of access to healthcare—and often lack of access to fresh food and other needs—comes more chronic illnesses. And it’s those same chronic illnesses that the CDC says puts people at higher risk for getting sicker from COVID-19. 89% of people who are hospitalized for COVID-19 have at least one underlying health condition.
Housing inequality is a compounding factor. Because of years of redlining and other forms of racial discrimination in housing, Black and Latinx people disproportionately live in neighborhoods with limited resources and funding. Many of those neighborhoods are hit harder by the virus. Discrimination also leads to higher risk of unstable housing, and of living in cramped spaces where it’s difficult to adhere to social distancing. Inequality also means less educational and employment opportunities, making People of Color more likely to have jobs where they can’t work from home.
All of these factors contribute to minority stress—chronic stress due to, well, the types of discrimination described above. Sustained levels of high stress often lead to substance use, as there is a lot of overlap between brain areas involved in modulating stress and those involved in reward-seeking behavior.
But like anything else, there are racial disparities in access to addiction treatment. Addiction treatment and mental health services should be race-conscious, which means understanding the specific traumas of minority stress. And clinicians should be aware of how People of Color are impacted by the pandemic affecting us all—in much different ways.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help. TruHealing Centers across the country are open and offering high-quality care to anyone in need of treatment. Our facilities are receiving hospital-grade sanitization to ensure your safety as you build a life free from substances. To find out more, call an admissions specialist today at 410-593-0005.