The danger is elevated, especially among younger minorities. Latinos aged 35 to 44 have a coronavirus mortality rate nearly eight times higher than white people in that age group — and Black people in the same age range have a mortality rate nine times higher than white people. The inequity persists with Latinos age 25 to 34 and those 45 to 54, who have a coronavirus mortality rate at least five times higher than caucasians, according to new Harvard analysis of National Center for Health Statistics data on reported coronavirus deaths from February to May 20.
“Young working people, the kinds of people we all see every day who are working, stocking shelves, or at the checkout counter, or delivering our stuff, or working in warehouses, those are people who are getting more exposed,” said Dr. Mary T. Bassett, former commissioner of Health for New York City, and one of the authors of the Harvard paper. “There’s a real story of occupational exposure and inadequate workplace protections that are helping to drive the rates in the Latino population.”
Other factors, like housing, contribute to transmission in Latino communities. Dr. Ben Weston, health director for Milwaukee County, said Latinos are more likely to live in multi-generational housing, making it harder for an infected person to quarantine. Latinos make up the largest number of cases in Milwaukee County but are only 15 percent of the population.
Access to care is another factor. Latinos, next to Native Americans, have the highest uninsurance rates of any minority group, which is often a deterrent. And the potential fear of deportation and cost associated with visiting a hospital is particularly high among undocumented immigrants or those in mixed-status families.
These factors, along with the unevenly distributed testing, could mean that current data could be “representing undercounts,” according to Dr. Javis Chen, a social epidemiologist and co-author of the Harvard paper on racial inequities in coronavirus mortality rates.
“When we talk about how structural racism impacts health, these structures also influence how we even collect the data,” said Chen. “There might not be enough testing available in some of these communities to even really capture the full extent of the problem.”
Inside the Numbers: Disproportionate infections and loss of young lives
The rapid increase in coronavirus cases among Latinos is cause for concern among the public health community, but what is causing even more alarm is the disproportionate rate of infection and the disparities among different age groups.
Nationally, Latinos account for roughly 34 percent of reported coronavirus cases, currently the highest of any racial and ethnic minority group. But the disparities are even more pronounced at the state and local levels.
From North Carolina to Kansas, Wisconsin to California, Latinos are hit hard, in some states outpacing the number of infections among every other racial and ethnic group.
In Durham County, N.C., Latinos make up 13 percent of the population, but from April through the end of May, the number of coronavirus cases among them jumped from 12 percent to 67 percent. The disproportionate impact is also seen statewide as Latinos make up 10 percent of the population but 45 percent of cases.