COVID-19: Hispanics twice as likely to die in King County
SEATTLE (AP) — Hispanic, Pacific Islander and black residents in the Seattle area are being disproportionately sickened by COVID-19, and Hispanic residents are more than twice as likely to die from the disease as whites, public health officials said Friday.
The county’s top health officer, Dr. Jeff Duchin, said the data echo findings from other parts of the country that minorities are being hit harder by the novel coronavirus. It reflects long-standing discrepancies with housing, work, language barriers, access to healthcare and environmental problems that can lead to worse health outcomes for minorities, he said.
“No one should be surprised we’re seeing these disparities in COVID-19 disease,” Duchin told a media briefing. “It’s been an ongoing national tragedy and a shame that we have had communities of color throughout our country suffering disproportionate adverse health impact from a wide variety of health conditions. This has been widely recognized and tolerated for such a long time.”
King County, which suffered the nation’s first severe outbreak at a Kirkland nursing home, had 6,348 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Friday, or 285 per 100,000 residents. Among minority groups, Hawaiian native and Pacific Islanders had the highest rate of cases, about 666 per 100,000 residents, followed by Hispanic or Latino residents at 628 and blacks at 328, the county said. There were about 149 cases per 100,000 white residents.
There had been 452 deaths in the county as of Friday. While most of those were among white residents, the rate by population was highest among Hispanics: more than 40 per 100,000 residents. For whites, it the rate was just over 17.
Officials cautioned about limitations with the data: Race or ethnicity information is missing in about 30 percent of cases reported by the state Department of Health; the county said it augmented that data with complementary databases.
Among the reasons COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting minorities could be that more work in essential industries, including in grocery stores, restaurants offering delivery or take out, transportation, and cleaning and building services, the county said. That can make them more likely to be exposed to the virus.
Additionally, they may be more likely to live in multi-generational housing, where it can be more difficult to separate from family members, thus exposing relatives. Undocumented people are excluded from some federal programs, such as federal stimulus payments, that might otherwise allow them to more effectively keep away from others or stay home.
Those with underlying health conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, are at greatest risk. Such conditions can be more prevalent in neighborhoods where many people of color live, due to historical housing discrimination, and where there is less access to healthy, affordable foods and walkable neighborhoods.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control have also warned that such factors are likely to lead to COVID-19 disproportionately affecting minorities.
Matías Valenzuela, equity director at Public Health – Seattle & King County, said the county is taking steps to help remedy some of the issues. In addition to offering information about COVID in 21 languages and reaching out to various communities, the county has explored how to financially support undocumented residents and how to expand testing in minority communities.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.