The relationship between structural racism and COVID-19 related health disparities across 10 metropolitan cities in the United States.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.jnma.2022.01.008; PMCID: PMC8872840


Introduction: Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous groups have carried the burden of COVID-19 disease in comparison to non-marginalized groups within the United States. It is important to examine the factors that have led to the observed disparities in COVID-19 risk, morbidity, and mortality. We described primary health care access within large US metropolitan cities in relation to COVID-19 rate, race/ethnicity, and income level and hypothesized that observed racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 rates are associated with health care provider number.

Methods: We accessed public city health department records for reported COVID-19 cases within 10 major metropolitan cities in the United States and also obtained publicly available racial/ethnic demographic median income and primary health care provider counts within individual zip codes. We made comparisons of COVID-19 case numbers within zip codes based on racial/ethnic and income makeup in relation to primary health care counts.

Results: Median COVID-19 rates differed by race/ethnicity and income. There was an inverse relationship between median income and COVID-19 rate within zip codes (rho: -0.515; p<0.001). However, this relationship was strongest within racially/ethnically non-marginalized zip codes relative to those composed mainly of racially/ethnically marginalized populations (rho: -0.427 vs. rho: -0.175 respectively). Health care provider number within zip codes was inversely associated with the COVID-19 rate. (rho: -0.157; p<0.001) However, when evaluated by stratified groups by race the association was only significant within racially/ethnically marginalized zip codes(rho: -0.229; p<0.001).

Discussion: COVID-19 case rates were associated with racial/ethnic makeup and income status within zip codes across the United States and likewise, primary care provider access also differed by these factors. However, our study reveals that structural and systemic barriers and inequities have led to disproportionate access to health care along with other factors that require identification.

Conclusion: These results pose a concern in terms of pandemic progression into the next year and how these structural inequities have impacted and will impact vaccine distribution.

Journal Title

Journal of the National Medical Association





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COVID-19; Health disparities; Minorities; Public health; Structural racism

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