New OHIO study finds link between racial/ethnic disparities and COVID-19 deaths
Ohio University researcher Berkeley Franz has published a new study examining the relationship between systemic racism, residential segregation, and racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
The study, published in Ethnicity and Disease, found that black and white death rates were higher in areas with greater residential segregation, with black death rates almost twice as high.
Franz, Associate Professor at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Ralph S. Licklider, DO, Endowed Faculty Fellow in Population Health Science, conducted the study with Ben Parker, Senior Lecturer in Statistics at Brunel University London ; Adrienne Milner, senior lecturer in public health at Brunel University in London; and Jomills H. Braddock II, professor of sociology at the University of Miami in Florida. Together, the researchers tested the hypothesis that social factors were at the heart of health disparities with COVID.
“We were interested in doing this study because racial and ethnic disparities emerged in the midst of COVID-19, and for some Americans this may have been one of the first times they learned about the disparities,” Franz said. “Health disparities are present with almost every disease and have persisted for years, and the gap is not closing, especially between black and white Americans. We wanted to understand what was driving these disparities so we could find better ways to reduce them. »
For the study, Franz and his team analyzed data from each state, looking at systemic measures of racism, as well as socioeconomic factors between black and white residents. Using death data through December 2020, they assessed whether systemic racism at the state level and residential segregation predicted the likelihood of death from COVID-19 among Americans, taking into account the main socio-demographic factors of the process.
Their findings reinforce that the death rate was higher among blacks due to different social environments rather than physiology or genetics. The authors hypothesize that in segregated neighborhoods, residents are less likely to have access to good quality schools, job opportunities, health care, and other resources.
“Race does not have a strong influence on whether an individual is infected with COVID-19, as infection rates are similar by race. But race is related to the severity of the disease and whether you die from it,” Franz said. “Racial disparities are embedded in American institutions, whether in education systems, health care or neighborhoods, and we found that the more residential segregation there was in a state, the better the predictor of the number of people dying from COVID and who was dying.”
The study results demonstrate that residential segregation is associated with negative outcomes for black and white Americans, but has a disproportionate impact on black residents. The death rate varies widely by race, with 102.1 out of 100,000 black residents dying from COVID-19 and 73.1 out of 100,000 white residents dying from COVID-19.
According to Franz, the implications of residential segregation and systemic racism are important when looking at COVID death rates, because it is social factors that have shaped these deaths, not individual decisions. Differences in socioeconomic factors, such as having health insurance and accessible resources, may contribute to the likelihood of recovery from COVID.
“Health disparities will never go away unless we get rid of fundamental inequalities,” Franz said. “Having an unequal society makes everyone vulnerable and leads to poor outcomes. By addressing these social factors, we can help prevent illness and death. Racial equality benefits society all around.
Franz and his team are currently working on a study examining vaccination rates over time and whether residential segregation predicts whether people are vaccinated. No data was collected regarding the race of those who were vaccinated at the local level, forcing researchers to examine trends at the state level.