Blacks, Hispanics and Asians have higher rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death than whites, according to a study analyzing electronic health data from Verona-based Epic Systems Corp.
The study, released Wednesday by Epic and the Kaiser Family Foundation, confirms and provides more detail on racial disparities found since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
People of color are more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and require a higher level of care at the time of diagnosis than whites, according to the analysis of Epic records for roughly 50 million patients from 53 health systems representing 399 hospitals across 21 states.
Minorities are also more likely to be hospitalized and die from the coronavirus.
“Understanding the factors underlying COVID-19 infections and severe complications can help us devote resources appropriately to the most vulnerable communities,” Dr. Christopher Alban, Epic’s vice president of clinical informatics, said in a statement.
“The findings highlight the continued importance of addressing racial disparities in responding to COVID-19 as in health care more broadly,” said Drew Altman, CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Researchers said the findings suggest people of color may face more barriers to testing, which could delay tests until they have more serious illness.
In Wisconsin, where Blacks and Hispanics each make up about 7% of the population, Blacks account for about 11% of COVID-19 cases and 19% of deaths and Hispanics have about 19% of cases and nearly 12% of deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services. Asians and American Indians don’t have a disproportionate share of cases or deaths in the state.
Some of the key findings of the new study, published in the Epic Health Research Network:
- Testing rates differed little by race and ethnicity, but among those tested, Hispanics were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to have a positive result (311 per 1,000) and Blacks and Asians were nearly twice as likely to test positive (219 and 220 per 1,000, respectively) for COVID-19 compared to whites (113 per 1,000).
- Larger shares of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians were in an inpatient setting when they tested positive for COVID-19, and they were more likely to require oxygen or ventilation at the time of diagnosis.
- COVID-19 infection rates among Hispanics and Blacks were nearly three and over two times higher, respectively, compared to whites (143 and 107 vs. 46 per 10,000).
- Hospitalization rates for Hispanics and Blacks with COVID-19 were more than four times and over three times higher, respectively, compared to the rate for whites (30.4 and 24.6 vs. 7.4 per 10,000). Death rates for both groups were over twice as high as the rate for whites (5.6 and 5.6 compared to 2.3 per 10,000). Asians also faced such disparities.
- Among patients who tested positive for COVID-19, Blacks, Hispanics and Asians remained at higher risk for hospitalization and death compared to whites with similar sociodemographic characteristics and underlying health conditions, suggesting that other barriers, including racism and discrimination, are affecting outcomes through avenues not captured by these measures.
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