Pandemic shows racial disparities in healthcare, Minnesota doctors say

The coronavirus pandemic has re-exposed the deep racial disparities in Minnesota when it comes to healthcare. Wednesday during a hearing for the House Select Committee on Minnesota’s Pandemic Response and Rebuilding, doctors told state lawmakers the numbers and the science back it up.

“Number one, the COVID-19 pandemic is really hitting people of color in the U.S. far more severely than white Americans,” said Dr. Dimitri Drekonja of the University of Minnesota. “And number two, there is no biologic explanation for this.”  

The latest data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows Blacks make up 20 percent of all COVID-19 cases and 23 percent of all hospitalizations so far, even though they represent only six percent of Minnesota’s population. Hispanics represent 17 percent of all cases and 15 percent of hospitalizations.  They represent only five percent of the population.

Stella Whitney-West, the CEO of Northpoint Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis, says she sees this reflected in their own clinic.

“90 percent of our COVID-19 positive tests have been from communities of color,” said Whitney-West. “Our overall positivity rate is 20 percent compared to five percent positivity rate state wide, and 7.5 percent for Hennepin County.”  

The disparities extend to care. One respiratory specialist told lawmakers she could not get special religious considerations for her father who was in his final hours at Bethesda Hospital.

“I requested the care team if I could have an imam to read the Koran to my father as it is a ritual for our religion,” she said. “I was told only a chaplain and not an imam. I had some speakers in my car, so I used the speakers and used the computer to read the Koran on YouTube.” 

There’s even greater worry about building confidence in a coronavirus vaccine when one is eventually approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“You cannot imagine the miscommunication and false information about the vaccine that is perpetuated by the naysayers in social media,” said Dr. Farhiya Farah of St. Mary’s University. “We have to work with communities of color to build trust. I can’t over emphasize this.”  

State Representative Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) says there is so much misinformation on vaccines and distrust of the government within the African-American community that it will be critical to work with nonprofits once a vaccine does come out.