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Residential segregation led to higher COVID-19 death rates for Black patients, study says


Racism important for understanding health care disparities

COVID-19 death rates among Black and white patients were higher in areas with more residential segregation, with Black patients’ death rates being almost twice as high, a new study says.

The findings reinforce that the death rate was higher among Black individuals because of different social environments, rather than physiology or genetics, said a news release about the study.

“Race doesn’t strongly shape if an individual gets infected with COVID-19, as infection rates are similar by race. But race does relate to how severe the disease is and if you die from it,” said study co-author Berkeley Franz, PhD, of Ohio University. “Racial disparities are baked into American institutions, whether that is in education systems, health care or neighborhoods, and we found that the more residential segregation there was in a state, the better predictor it was for how many people were dying of COVID and who was dying.”

The researchers analyzed data from every state, including deaths through December 2020, along with socioeconomic factors between Black and white residents, the news release said.

Residential segregation was measured based on U.S. Census data from 2012 to 2015.

The authors hypothesized that in segregated neighborhoods, residents are less likely to have access to good quality schools, employment opportunities, health care and other resources. The results suggested “specific forms of systemic racism, such as residential segregation, may be particularly important for understanding disparities,” the study said.

The researchers noted Black patients are not the only ones affected by systemic racism. Those conditions have appear to be bad for white Americans’ health as well, the study said.

“States that foster inequality, may promote environments that result in negative health outcomes across the board,” the study said.

The study, “The Relationship Between Systemic Racism, Residential Segregation, and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in COVID-19 Deaths in the United States,” was published in the journalEthnicity & Disease.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
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