[Excerpt from feature article by Bill Cummings, June 26, 2020, featuring data from the new DataHaven publication "Towards Health Equity in Connecticut: The Role of Social Inequality and the Impact of COVID-19"]
The coronavirus has been far more deadly for Connecticut’s Black and Hispanic residents than white citizens — and the reasons are exposing decades of economic and health disparity.
Numbers compiled by the state show that Blacks and Hispanics are three times more likely to get COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from the virus.
Experts and others say the reason follows familiar ground, including the impact of poverty and lack of access to affordable health insurance and health care.
“I wish I was surprised,” said Patricia Baker, president of the Connecticut Health Foundation.
“It’s just the magnitude of this,” Baker said. “I think I’d pick the word ‘devastating.’ You can’t hide from these disparities anymore.”
Dr. Cato Laurencin, a UConn professor and health researcher, concluded in April that Blacks and people of color were disproportionately being impacted by COVID.
“While the virus does not discriminate, America’s history of discrimination creates potential longer-term scenarios akin to our experience with HIV, influenza and other infectious diseases in Black and brown people,” Laurencin wrote in one of the first papers on the subject.
The answer seems obvious
Deon Kipping, a Bridgeport resident and gospel musician, successfully fought off the coronavirus, but his 81-year-old grandmother, Sarah, died from the disease at a nursing home.
Kipping said the virus is “shining a light” on decades of disparity.
“It’s definitely systematic racism,” Kipping said, adding that the problem is obvious to anyone who looks.
“I think you have all the answers right there,” Kipping said. “We don’t have access to proper health care and it’s not affordable. You are supposed to isolate yourself, but we don’t have the finances to have the rooms where they can separate themselves. We are not being treated fairly across the board.”
Kipping added, “I’m praying that one day our president and governors will stop all this redlining and allow people to have the same benefits and rights to the health care system and make it affordable to people who can’t afford it.”
The state’s COVID data shows that whites have contracted the virus at a rate of 504 patients per 100,000 people; Blacks at 1,565 people per 100,000; and Hispanics at 1,649 per 100,000.
The ratio of COVID deaths for whites is 71 people per 100,000; for Blacks it is 192 per 100,000; and 116 per 1,000 for Hispanics.
That translates into Blacks and Hispanics being more than three times as likely to contract the virus and twice as likely to die from it.
The cause of that disparity, experts and others say, has been well known for years and is baked into longstanding societal inequities.
A recent report by New Haven-based DataHaven highlighted severe inequalities for Black and Hispanics.
The report said the medium income for Black and Latino residents is less than half of that for white residents. The poverty rate for Blacks and Latinos is 14 and 15 percent, respectively, compared with 5 percent for whites.
Blacks and Latinos are nearly twice as likely as whites to struggle with high housing costs, the report found.
The report noted a survey that showed 11 percent of Blacks and 24 percent of Latinos in Stamford and Greenwich did not have health insurance, compared with 4 percent of their white neighbors.
“You are talking about the ability to access health care,” Baker said. “The Latino population has the highest rate of not having insurance. All of this puts at risk people of color and has made them much more vulnerable.”
State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor and vice chairman of the public health committee, said lawmakers must begin reversing the inequity.
“The reality is everything that has been wrong with our health care disparity has been magnified by the COVID pandemic,” said Anwar, who is a medical doctor.
Legislative fixes should include creating less dense housing, improving education in urban areas and promoting healthy food outlets, Anwar said.
Other priorities include expanding access to health insurance and care, lowering the cost of insulin and other medicines and mandating protections for essential workers, Anwar said.
“Those are the starting points,” said Anwar. “We can enact policies that can mitigate this.”
State Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, said she thought a litany of mistakes were made by state and municipal leaders as they began battling COVID-19, ranging from slow testing to not paying sufficient attention to cities such as Bridgeport, where the disease spread the fastest.
“It took this pandemic for people to acknowledge how many things are wrong in the system,” Moore said. “My dad used to say you don’t let a man fall to his knees before you help them. It’s so much harder to get off their knees.”
Moore said simple actions such as continuing to allow SNAP recipients to buy prepared food and food online is a good first step.
Gov. Ned Lamont expanded SNAP usage through an executive order. That permission ends when the public health crisis is over.
“I hope going forward we will fight for those things and let people have their dignity and not let them suffer so much,” Moore said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “current data suggest a disproportionate burden of [COVID] illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.”
Nationally, Blacks are more than twice as likely to die from COVID and in 42 states and Washington D.C. the percentage of Hispanics with coronavirus exceeds their share of the population.
Scott Esdaile, president of the Connecticut chapter of the NAACP, said the numbers show what activists have known for years.
“The disparity is nothing new in reference to vulnerable communities and people who have a lot of health issues with diabetes, heart disease and so on,” Esdaile said.
“This is like a perfect storm,” Esdaile said. “It has devastated Black communities from sea to sea across America.”