How race and poverty was impacted by COVID-19

June 10, 2021

A new analysis by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) offers a novel perspective on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people of color, low-income populations, and other structurally disadvantaged groups.

Their findings, published in a research letter to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, emphasize the urgency of addressing inequities that have been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, as reported in a news release from Mass General.  

Researchers decided to analyze the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of patients tested for COVID-19 at 14 sites within the Mass General Brigham system from the earliest days of the pandemic until mid-December 2020. Those sites include not only hospitals also but community health centers and urgent care clinics. Combining the results of both inpatient and outpatient testing for COVID-19 distinguished this analysis from most earlier inquiries, which primarily focused on inpatient testing.

The MGH team analyzed test results from 394,536 patients, finding that 29,977 patients (7.6% of those tested) had positive results for COVID-19. Males (8.2%) were slightly more likely than females (7.2%) to test positive. Stark contrasts emerged when researchers broke down positive cases by race and socioeconomic factors. For example:

·           The study found that 5.6% of white patients tested positive, compared to 17.2% of Hispanic patients and 11.9% of Black patients.

·            Using ZIP codes, they found that patients from communities where the median annual household income was $70,000 or less were nearly three times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than patients from communities where median household incomes were greater than $100,000 per year (13.3% compared to 4.7%).

·            Medicaid patients had more positive tests (14.2%) than those with commercial insurance (6.8%).

·            People who lived in areas where unemployment was higher than 5% were nearly twice as likely to have COVID-19 than those from communities with unemployment of 3.5% or less (10.7% compared to 5.8%).

·            On the other hand, in ZIP codes populated by a significant portion of people with jobs in the service sector — who couldn’t stay home and work remotely during the pandemic — were more than three times as likely to contract COVID-19 than others from communities with relatively fewer service-sector employees (13.4% compared to 4.2%).

Visit Mass General for more news