COVID-19’s growing death toll reflects persistent health disparities

White flags in the ground.
A white flag shows a personalized inscription on Dec. 1, 2020, for "IN AMERICA How Could This Happen...," an outdoor public art installation in Washington, D.C., led by artist Suzanne Firstenberg.
Roberto Schmidt | AFP via Getty Images 2020

Several of America’s deadliest days of the pandemic happened this year. Within the first two weeks of 2021, there were three separate days in which more than 4,000 people died from COVID-19 according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The record-breaking trajectory is especially alarming for people of color, who have been hit disproportionately hard. Pacific Islander, Latino, Black and Indigenous Americans die from COVID-19 at a rate that is at least twice as high as white and Asian Americans, according to the most recent data from the APM Research Lab, a sister organization of MPR News.

Two physicians joined MPR News host Kerri Miller for a conversation about the structural issues that exacerbate racial disparities in medicine as well as solutions for closing those gaps.


  • Dr. Benji K. Mathews is a physician and the head of hospital medicine for Regions Hospital at Health Partners.

  • Dr. Renee Crichlow is a family medicine physician, Chief Medical Officer of Codman Square Community Health Center and incoming Vice-Chair for Health Equity at Boston University’s Department of Family Medicine.

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To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

Correction (Jan. 18, 2021): Dr. Mathew's name was spelled incorrectly in a previous version of this episode page. The current spelling is correct.

Read the automated transcript.

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