CDC hospital data point to racial disparity in COVID-19 cases

About 1 in 3 people who become sick enough to require hospitalization from COVID-19 were African American, according to hospital data from the first month of the U.S. epidemic released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even though 33 percent of those hospitalized patients were black, African Americans constitute 13 percent of the U.S. population. By contrast, the report found that 45 percent of hospitalizations were among white people, who make up 76 percent percent of the population. And 8 percent of hospitalizations were among Hispanics, who make up 18 percent of the population.

The study of about 1,500 hospitalized patients in 14 states underscores the long-standing racial disparities in health care in the U.S. It also echoes what has been seen in other coronavirus outbreaks around the world — people with chronic health conditions have a higher likelihood of developing a serious illness after being infected with coronavirus. The findings appear in the MMWR, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Overall, the report found that about 90 percent of people in the hospital with COVID-19 had at least one underlying health condition. Half (50 percent) had high blood pressure, 48 percent were obese, 35 percent had chronic lung disease and 28 percent had diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Hospitalizations were highest among people 65 and older, and about 54 percent of those hospitalized were men.

People who were hospitalized had a wide range of symptoms. The most common symptoms at the time of hospital admission were cough (86 percent), fever or chills (85 percent), and/or shortness of breath (80 percent). Upset stomach and gastrointestinal symptoms were documented as well: 27 percent had diarrhea and 24 percent reported nausea or vomiting.

Asked about the reports of health disparities and racial divide at a White House coronavirus task force briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said that African Americans do not seem more likely to be infected by coronavirus.

But he added that "underlying medical conditions, [including] diabetes, hypertension, obesity, [and] asthma" might make it more likely that African Americans are admitted to the ICU or die from the disease. "We really do need to address" the health disparities that exist in the U.S., Fauci said.

"These findings underscore the importance of preventive measures (e.g., social distancing, respiratory hygiene, and wearing face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain)," the authors of the report write, "to protect older adults and persons with underlying medical conditions, as well as the general public."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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