Inequities that are experienced through lack of access and opportunity have always disproportionately impacted people of color. Quality housing, education, clean air and water, safe neighborhoods, access to health and mental health, and affordable and nutritious food are just a few examples of the social determinants of health, which are essential for each of us to reach our full potential. Yet many of these things are glaringly absent in neighborhoods of color.

What is present in many of these communities are systemic inequities—such as racism, poverty, and violence—resulting in toxic stress that can contribute to negative physical and behavioral health outcomes. Additionally, adverse childhood experiences are more common among people of color, so the additional constant exposure to subtle and explicit discrimination creates an even greater risk for chronic disease.

Stark Evidence of Health Inequity

All of this is to say that when COVID-19 hit communities of color, the results have been devastating. Data bear out the disproportionate impact of the virus for BIPOC individuals compared to white individuals. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the COVID Racial Data Tracker, a collaboration between the COVID Tracking Project and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, gathered the most complete and up-to-date race and ethnicity data on COVID-19 in the U.S. Statistics show that nationwide, Black people have died at 1.4 times the rate of white people.

Source: Deaths per 100,000 people by race or ethnicity. Reproduced from the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Recent CDC data also show that Black individuals’ rate of hospitalization from COVID-19 is 2.8 times that of white individuals; the rates for American Indians and Hispanics are even higher. The CDC further notes that race and ethnicity are risk markers for other underlying conditions that affect health including socioeconomic status and access to health care.

Source: Risk for COVID-19 Infection, Hospitalization, and Death By Race/Ethnicity.

“Unquestionably the disparities in health for Black and Brown children, youth, and adults contribute to greater susceptibility to COVID-19 infection and serious illness or death. There are complex factors that must be understood if we are to effectively combat the adverse economic and health effects of the virus and help communities become resilient and able to thrive in the future,” says Undraye Howard, senior director of equity, diversity, and inclusion and engagement at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities/Council on Accreditation (COA).

Persistence of Bias and Barriers Creates Vaccine Hesitancy

With the COVID-19 immunization rollout underway across the U.S., the Alliance/COA is partnering with the Morehouse School of Medicine and other social sector organizations to mobilize community-based organizations (CBOs) through the National COVID-19 Resiliency Network (NCRN). This initiative is focused on mitigating the negative impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minority and American Indian and Alaska Native communities through disseminating culturally and linguistically relevant resources to the hardest hit communities.

One of the things this initiative is tackling is medical mistrust in neighborhoods of color, evident in vaccine hesitancy in many of those most at risk for COVID-19’s effects.

“There are many shameful examples in U.S. history when medical professionals have exploited Black Americans. … These historical examples have left indelible scars and resulted in deep and lasting distrust among people of color toward the medical professions. Rebuilding and restoring that trust requires an approach that engages communities and those with lived experience in both identifying the problem and offering solutions.” notes Michelle Hinton, director of population health and well-being at the Alliance/COA, in her column, To Reduce Disparities, Be Mindful of History and Reform Systems, published in the most recent edition of Health Progress.

Health Equity Means Everyone Can Thrive

The Alliance/COA is committed to health equity as a key strategy to increase the safety and well-being of individuals, families, and communities most impacted by inequality and racism. Beyond the immediacy of COVID-19 care and prevention, mitigating and preventing deeply entrenched inequities through improving the social determinants of health must be a priority for community health goals and public policy aims.

CBOs are critical to the success of pandemic response and resilience because they have the expertise and experience to advance the social, political, and environmental factors that improve everyone’s health and well-being. To support these front-line organizations, the Alliance/COA created an online forum for COVID response and recovery as a comprehensive source for real-world advice, practical strategies, and extensive resources.

New Learning Opportunities in April: COVID Vaccine and Community Well-Being

Join us this month as national health experts and seasoned CBO leaders convene on health equity and COVID-19: