Research shows minorities have higher COVID-19 infection rates than whites
Research led by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) indicates that Hispanic and Black Arkansans had higher COVID-19 infection rates than whites, but the research doesn’t provide clear reasons for the higher rates.
The project used seroprevalence of antibodies to COVID as an indicator. Antibodies are created by a person’s immune system once they contract a virus or receive a vaccine to help fight a specific illness, according to a UAMS press release.
Dr. Joshua Kennedy, associate professor for the UAMS College of Medicine who treats patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, was the lead author of the report. Arkansas’ minorities getting the virus at such a large rate is problematic, he said.
“The higher exposure levels in minorities is not surprising,” he said. “However, the magnitude of the difference in exposure rates is what was surprising, especially early in the pandemic.”
The number of Arkansans, regardless of ethnicity, exposed to COVID increased from 2.6% to 7.4% from August 2020 to December 2020. Researchers studied nearly 6,000 serum samples from Arkansas adult outpatients who had medical appointments for reasons not related to COVID-19. The study focused on three specific time periods during the aforementioned August to December span. Throughout the study, Hispanics and Blacks were more likely than whites to have antibodies to COVID.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arkansas has a population of just over 3 million people. The 2021 Census shows that whites are 79% of the state’s population. Blacks are 15.7% and Hispanics 7.8% of Arkansas’ population. There was no difference in the COVID infection rates for minorities who reside in the two population hubs of central and Northwest Arkansas, compared to the rural areas.
Studies are ongoing as for the reasons why Blacks and Hispanics in Arkansas have higher COVID infection rates than whites. Following are possible reasons given by researchers that contribute to the higher COVID infection rates.
• Structural racism
• Inadequate food options
• Being from low-income households
• Holding jobs that didn’t provide the option of working from home
• Having limited access to a primary care physician
• Limited access to adequate health care coverage
Additionally, Arkansans 18-29 and 30-39 had the highest infection rates in terms of age. The information also showed that minorities comprised the highest percentage of the cases.
“We suspect that the higher level of seroprevalence of antibodies in these populations is secondary to exposure risk,” Kennedy said. “While we can’t say for sure, we think that these groups were the ones that had to continue working during the pandemic, therefore, their risk for exposure was higher.”
The study’s researchers noted how their info highlights the need to learn why Arkansas’ minority populations are exposed to COVID far more often than whites. Finding out the concrete reasons why this has occurred would help health officials address the issue.
“While we are moving into a period where we’re seeing a decrease of infections, it is important to remember that COVID-19 is not gone,” Kennedy said. “We must remain vigilant and follow CDC instructions for masking and limiting our contacts. We should always remember to properly wash our hands.”
As of May 31, the latest update from the Arkansas Department of Health, there have been 843,362 known COVID cases in Arkansas since the pandemic began in March 2020, up 2,243 from the previous week. There were 3,760 known active cases, up 50 from the previous week. Also as of May 31, there were 76 Arkansans hospitalized with COVID, up 4 from the previous week.