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Coronavirus Disproportionately Impacting Black, Hispanic Residents in Mass., Data Shows

Black and Hispanic residents of Massachusetts are more than three times more likely to become infected with the coronavirus than white residents, new data shows.

The data, compiled by the state health department’s COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group, highlights how Black and Hispanic communities across Massachusetts are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

According to the data, Black non-Hispanic residents and Hispanic residents have a three-times higher positive COVID-19 case rate than white, non-Hispanic residents. Black and Hispanic residents also have higher rates of hospitalizations and are higher burden of COVID-19 deaths compared to white or Asian residents.

The data comes as the nation sees a surge in coronavirus cases at a time when grassroots protests are demanding that officials take measures to address inequities in many sectors, including health care.

According to the data, Hispanic people represent about 12% of the state’s population but account for more than 29% of cases. Black residents represent around seven percent of the population but double that proportion of cases at 14.4% cases.

The rate of hospitalizations for Black non-Hispanic residents and Hispanic residents is 2.4 times higher and 1.6 times higher, respectively, than for white residents, the report showed.

Moreover, the age-adjusted death rate is highest for Black residents, at 161.4 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Nine of the 10 cities and towns with the highest rates of COVID infection are also communities where more than half the residents identify as people of color.

“We have long understood that racism is a public health issue that demands action, and the disproportionate impacts of this new disease on communities of color and other priority populations is the latest indicator change is necessary,” said health commissioner Monica Bharel, who chaired the advisory group.

“At the Department of Public Health, our mission is to eliminate health inequities and we place equity at the core of all that we do.”

The advisory group made several recommendations to strengthen the response for disproportionately impacted communities:

  • Continuing to disaggregate COVID-19 data across populations and sectors, such as transit usage.
  • Increasing equitable distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers and Commonwealth residents in professions most at risk.
  • Implement policies that increase housing stability for populations disproportionally impacted by COVID-19.
  • Prioritizing investment in multilingual outreach to communities to increase access to testing, home and workplace protections, and access to state assistance programs.
  • Planning and implementing a strategy for the active engagement and representation of existing community based organizations in the most-impacted communities as part of decision-making processes related to COVID-19 response and recovery.

“This unique public/private partnership brought together Department of Public Health leadership and voices from the community, not only to share what we are witnessing – a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 by race, ethnicity and geography – but to take action on that information,” said Juan Lopera, vice president of business diversity at Tufts Health Plan, a member of the Advisory Group.

“It is our fervent hope that these recommendations inform our collective response to the pandemic and our planning for the future.”