U of M researchers: People of color are hospitalized for COVID-19 at higher rates

“But there’s no sources for that information on a national basis,” Georgiou said. “So we just decided to make it happen.”

According to Karaca-Mandic, “Its hand data collection, it’s not web scraping. We go to every single department of health website every day, multiple times and enter the data.”

The research was conducted between April 30 and June 24. They have created an online dashboard to share their findings. The data changes every day. At the time only, 12 states tracked hospitalizations by race and ethnicity. Since then, two more states have started, bringing the total to 14.

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“And in the beginning, what we had observed was that the states were pretty much left on their own to publicize this data and what format to report those data in” Sen said. “There was not a national view that we could easily get.”

Twelve states isn’t a huge pool to draw information from but it paints a picture of health care disparities. 

“In 12 out of 12 states that reported data on race and ethnicity, the percent of the white population hospitalized because of COVID was lower than the portion of those whites in the state,” Georgiou said. “Whereas, in the 12 out of 12 states that report, the percentage of blacks that were hospitalized because of COVID was higher; completely the opposite.”

“For example, in Minnesota, about 84 percent of the population is white,” Karaca-Mandic said. “In Minnesota, about 84 percent of the population is white. Where if you look at our data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, about 53 percent are white among the hospitalizations.”

According to Georgiou, before this study there was only one big CDC study that showed the disparity, and it looked at about 5,000 hospitalizations. This new study looked at more than 49,000 hospitalizations.

What conclusions can be drawn as to what’s behind the disparities?

“This is likely due to higher exposure to risk both through living conditions as well as working conditions,” Karaca-Mandic said. “About 40 percent of the black and Latino populations are in service and production jobs that cannot be done remotely. Where in contrast, about 25 percent, a quarter of the whites, had the same jobs.”

“Once you get infected, the reason why you have to show up at the hospital, which is what we are studying, is the presence of underlying conditions, comorbidities,” Sen added. “And that goes back a long way to talk about the differences in socioeconomic background of people of different communities. And that has something to do with the systematic differences between the different races.”

“This study does not show that minorities have less access to health care for COVID” said Georgiou. “But it does suggest, it does not prove, it suggests, that minorities have less access to health care to better manage, diagnose, treat and manage underlying conditions that make COVID-19 more severe.”

The U of M researchers are pushing all 50 states to report data on how COVID-19 is impacting hospitalizations by different racial and ethnic groups. They say if you don’t have data you can’t address the problem, identify the root cause and then begin to solve it.