African Americans in Minnesota and 11 other states are being hospitalized for COVID-19 at a rate that exceeds their share of the population.
A new study based on a University of Minnesota database of COVID-19 hospitalizations also found a disparity for Hispanics in 10 of 11 states, building the case that the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minority groups.
"We know from a lot of health services and health policy research that major disparities exist across race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status in terms of access to new treatment, access to care, insurance," said Pinar Karaca-Mandic, a health economist at the U who launched the hospital tracking database this spring. "In the context of COVID-19, we also knew from earlier evidence that there were wide differences in terms of infection rates."
Black people account for 25% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota but 7% of the state's population, while Hispanic people make up 16% of hospitalizations but 6% of the population, according to the U study, published Monday as a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The imbalance in hospitalizations also is reflected in the latest pandemic data from the Minnesota Department of Health, which on Monday reported 567 newly confirmed infections with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That brought the total count to 65,716. Among cases with listed race data, 24% involved Black patients. Among cases with Hispanic ethnicity identified, 22% of infections involved Hispanic people.
Reasons for the disparities are varied but include that minorities work in lower-income and service-oriented jobs that expose them to daily transmission risks, state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. Minorities also have higher rates of obesity and chronic diseases that turn more infections into hospitalizations and more hospitalizations into deaths.
"We think that is because of underlying health conditions that are prevalent in certain racial and ethnic groups, again as a result of complex ... social and economic factors," she said.
The disparity findings came Monday amid otherwise optimistic news from state health officials, who noted a decline in the average daily rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota.
Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped from more than 300 throughout most of August to 286 on Monday, and the positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic tests dipped back below 5%.
"It does look at present that we maybe have kind of reached the crest of the latest wave," Malcolm said.
Hospital outcomes are improving as well, she said, with shorter lengths of stay ensuring adequate levels of supervision and care for each admitted patient.
The ages of COVID-19 patients in hospitals break along racial lines, according to hospital outcomes data released Monday by the state Health Department.
People younger than 60 make up only 40% of the COVID-19 hospital admissions among those who are white non-Hispanics, but 72% of those who are Black and 89% of those who are Hispanic.
A Star Tribune report this month surveyed Minnesota death records and found people of color are dying of COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates, accounting for 63% of the deaths among adults under age 64, though they are just 16% of that population. Among older residents, people of color account for 15% of the deaths, triple their share of the population.
Six COVID-19 deaths were reported Monday, bringing the total in the pandemic to 1,712.
The new U study looked at the race and ethnicity of those hospitalized with COVID-19 between April 30 and June 24.
The study found disparities for Black patients were greatest in Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana and Kansas. For Hispanics, the disparities were most pronounced in Virginia, Utah and Rhode Island.
Researchers called for states to collect and release better data, because a lack of information on race and ethnicity among hospitalized patients meant they couldn't study the issue in more states. A lack of data on the age of hospitalized patients "means, actually, we're understating these disparities," Karaca-Mandic added.
The study can't explain why the disparities exist, but Karaca-Mandic said other research has verified the elevated risk for minorities that comes with low-wage-service jobs and the inability to work from home.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday published data from Utah showing the occupation-related risk. Half of workplace-related infections from March 6 through June 5 in that state involved manufacturing, construction and wholesale trade. Hispanic and nonwhite people made up larger shares of the workforce in each of these sectors and 73% of the total infections in workplace-related outbreaks.