NEW YORK – If black, Latino, and indigenous Americans are hospitalized and die from the coronavirus in far greater numbers than others, shouldn't the government consider them to be at high risk for serious illnesses? So far the answer is no, even though federal health officials have pondered that apparently simple question for months.
However, federal public health officials have announced a new strategy that promises to improve data collection and take steps to address the stark inequalities in how the disease especially affects minority Americans.
Officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasize that the disproportionately high Impact on certain minority groups does not depend on genetics. Rather, it is social conditions that make these groups more exposed to the virus and that, if they are infected, they are more likely to become seriously ill.
"Just mentioning racial and ethnic groups without contextualizing what contributes to the risk they have the potential to stigmatize and victimize, "said CDC's Leandris Liburd, who two months ago was named chief of health equity in the agency's response to the coronavirus.
Outside experts agree that there are many possible negative effects of label certain racial and ethnic groups as high risk.
"You must be very careful not to do it in such a way that you classify a whole class of people as 'COVID carriers,'" said physician George Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
The uneven impact of COVID-19 has been dramatic: American Indians and Alaska tribes are ho Spitalized five times more than white Americans. The hospitalization rate for black and Hispanic Americans is more than four times that of whites, according to data available from the CDC as of mid-July.
Detailed monitoring through mid-May indicates that black people accounted for 25 % of deaths in the United States so far, although they comprise approximately 13% of the country's population. 24% of the dead were Hispanic, representing approximately 18.5% of the population.
Additionally, 35% are white, representing 60% of the population.
Other researchers have noted that minorities face problems when trying to access tests or medical care for the coronavirus. However, while they have sometimes emphasized the disproportionate damage the virus has had to certain racial and ethnic groups, the CDC has been careful not to categorize them as high risk or to give them higher priority for certain health services.
Indeed In May, the CDC removed guidelines they had published stating that symptom-free minorities should be considered a priority for coronavirus testing. Government officials later claimed the publication had been a mistake.
Last month, the CDC edited its list indicating which Americans are most at risk for severe COVID-19 and added pregnant women and people with certain underlying diseases. But race and ethnicity were left out.
On Friday, the CDC released a racial equity strategy where they promised better data collection on how the virus impacts minorities. It also calls for improved testing, contact tracing, and secure quarantines, as well as isolation and care for minorities at risk. The agency said it will take steps to diversify the public health workforce in response to the epidemic.
At the moment, the agency did not provide details of an increase in funding for this work, but it is more than it has done in the past, according to some health experts.