U of M study finds 3 factors for higher risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes

Research developed at the University of Minnesota is creating a better picture of who is at highest risk of COVID-19.

Dr. Nicholas Ingraham and his team at the University of Minnesota Medical School looked at more than 5,000 COVID-19 patient records within the M Health Fairview system from March to August of last year. They found that race, ethnicity and the language people speak are major factors in how Minnesotans are impacted by COVID-19.

"The racial and ethnicity minorities ended up having higher risk of poor outcomes," said Dr. Ingraham.

What makes Dr. Ingraham’s research unique is the study found that regardless of socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic populations still faced worse outcomes, which is often pointed to as a major factor for these outcomes.

"It did not take away that signal that we saw that race and ethnicity is still important and a high-risk factor," he said.

Dr. Ingraham says this information is important to determine how resources like vaccines should be allocated.

"When you’re trying to vaccinate, you want to vaccinate people at highest risk," he said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, many minority communities are not getting vaccinated at the same rate as white Minnesotans. For example, African Americans make up six percent of Minnesota’s population, but only make up four percent of everyone who’s vaccinated.

"Disparities were really built into our system before COVID, so it’s not really a surprise that we’re seeing it now," said Dr. Nathan Chomilo, MDH’s vaccine equity director.

Dr. Chomilo says the state is making efforts to get vaccines to area codes that are falling behind and make sure public health information is available in many languages. However, he says there’s no quick fix.

"These inequities have built up over hundreds of years, so it’s going to take time to unwind the processes and procedures that contribute to these gaps we see," said Dr. Chomilo.

Researchers at the U of M hope shedding more light on these disparities helps policymakers find solutions.