U of M COVID-19 study finds greater impact on communities of color

In Minnesota, more than 80 percent of the state's population identifies as white and white residents make up about 86 percent of the state's COVID-19 related deaths through Dec. 16.

On the surface, it appears the state is an exception to nationwide trends revealing communities of color are impacted by COVID-19 the most, but researchers at the University of Minnesota say that isn't the case.

"We found that the appearance is a mirage," said Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota in the sociology department.  

A new study by the University of Minnesota found COVID-19 is impacting people of color even more than reports suggest just by looking at excess mortality rates, which is defined as deaths above what would be expected based on prior years.  

"The excess mortality rates for communities of color are three times higher compared to white people in Minnesota," Wrigley-Field said.  

According to the study, published in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, inequality is a result of two factors.   

The first is that the state’s white population is at least 15 years older than all its populations of color, on average. Also, COVID-19 cases have been the worst in long-term care facilities where the majority of residents are white. When you consider these factors, the study reveals that communities of color in Minnesota are at a greater risk.  

The other factor comes from the overall excess mortality than confirmed COVID-19 mortality, Professor Wrigley-Field added.  

Deaths from COVID-19 account for most of the excess mortality among white residents, but that’s far less when compared to other racial groups. Consequentially, the state's official COVID-19 numbers don’t reflect the total impact the pandemic is having on communities of color, the study found. 

When you look at the reasons why COVID-19 is impacting communities of color more, Dr. Zeke McKinney, who specializes in occupational medicine at the Health Partners Institute, said comorbid conditions are one reason.  

"Communities of color have more high-risk occupations and have more high-risk comorbid conditions whether it's asthma, diabetes, and heart disease," he said.  

He added, however, that it’s important to look beyond that.  

"Access to health care, health insurance, education, employment, housing, and those variables actually differ for your communities of color versus your white communities," he stated.  

Researchers from the University of Minnesota said the new data raises concerns about fairness within the healthcare system.  

"To me, it raises really big questions about what we should we be willing to do to try and address this," said Professor Wrigley-Field.