Providing further evidence of the racial inequities of the pandemic, new analysis of COVID cases and deaths in Santa Clara County finds that the virus killed mostly elderly white residents, but deaths among Latinx residents skewed much younger.
Dr. Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is the lead author of a new paper that examines the racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. COVID mortality. And as she tells the New York Times, "It matters how old you are when you die, because your role in society differs."
The paper finds that Black and Latinx communities, especially in the South Bay but throughout the country, are likely to feel far greater economic impacts from these COVID deaths among younger people. Because while deaths among older Americans are no less tragic, these deaths are much less likely to cut off income streams that entire families depended on.
A separate study of COVID mortality in California found that Hispanic Americans between the ages of 20 and 54 were 8.5 times more likely to die from the virus than their white counterparts.
In Santa Clara County, 51 out of 68 (75%) of residents under the age of 50 who died from COVID-19 were Latinx, even though they only represent 25% of the county population overall. And the median age at death of COVID patients in the county was 86 for white residents, but 73 for Hispanics.
Across California, in COVID cases where the race of the individual was recorded, Latinx residents represent 70% of cases overall, even though they represent 39% of the state's population. The reasons are many, but one that has been pointed to frequently has been the higher likelihood among this population that individuals have jobs that could not be done remotely.
Other factors include large, multigenerational households that often have one or more essential workers in them; and higher rates of pre-existing conditions like diabetes.
One example case used in the Times piece is that of 38-year-old Jesse Ruby, who died on January 16 after contracting COVID at an in-law's house on Thanksgiving. Ruby visited the hospital in early December when he had trouble breathing and tested positive for the virus. Still, despite having high blood pressure and diabetes and being obese, Ruby was sent home by the ER, only to return to the hospital a few days later, after his skin began turning blue.
Ruby's death has created economic hardship for his family, but it's also frayed relationships in various ways — with some family members blaming Ruby's girlfriend for not insisting he stay in the hospital on that first visit. But another factor that likely came into play was that his private insurance had not kicked in at that point, and he was on MediCal when the ER sent him home.
"Identifying COVID-19 disparities is an initial step toward mitigating disease impacts in vulnerable communities," write the authors of a recently published study in the Annals of Epidemiology.
But, unfortunately, it is too late for many in this pandemic.
Top image: An ICU nurse at Regional Medical Center in San Jose in May 2020. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)