While the Covid-19 pandemic is ravaging all of New York State, from Montauk to Massena, many minority communities are feeling the effects more than others. Underlying chronic conditions such as hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma are some of the chronic conditions that also disproportionately affect minorities. Public health researchers also note that most of these communities endure inferior housing, higher unemployment, and less access to affordable healthy foods – factors known as the social determinants of health.
In early April, the state began to see a trend where communities of color were contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than their white counterparts. In response, the governor opened five new testing sites in downstate minority communities and requested state staff to investigate this disheartening trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also tracking this COVID-19 incidence disparity.
In Nassau County, 17 percent of residents who died from coronavirus were black, while they only make up 11.7 percent of the population. In Suffolk County, blacks made up 11 percent of deaths and only eight percent of the county’s population. Percentages were derived from the New York State Department of Health COVID-19 data posted on April 14, 2020, and the U.S. Census Bureau 2018 American Community Survey.
The NYS-Covid-19 Tracker reports that outside of New York City, blacks make up 17 percent of coronavirus-related fatalities, while Hispanics account for 14 percent of deaths. These are revealing statistics as blacks and Hispanics make up only nine percent and 12 percent of the New York State population, excluding New York City, respectively. The report also shows that 88.5 percent of all fatalities suffered from at least one comorbidity.
Long before the days of coronavirus, communities of color were experiencing disparities related to the social determinants of health (SDOH). These are the conditions in the environment in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. These conditions include economic stability, education, social and community context, healthcare, and neighborhood and built environment.
Black and Hispanic families are more likely to live in areas with higher rates of poverty and are less likely to have access to resources such as quality health coverage, access to new treatments, and paid time off from work. The lack of a federal paid leave policy forces low-income workers to choose between staying home from work when sick and not losing wages. Those who go to work ill are potentially spreading the virus. Many minority workers are also essential workers who do not have a work-from-home choice. These historical health inequities that affect communities of color are also why they are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as asthma, hypertension, and diabetes – the underlying, chronic conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
The importance of programs combating chronic diseases, especially in high-need communities, is more necessary than ever. The Long Island Health Collaborative (LIHC) and its 300+ member health and social service organizations have made that their top priority, along with promoting access to mental health and substance use prevention and treatment. The Nassau and Suffolk county health departments, community-based organizations, and hospital systems all offer chronic disease health education programs to help their community members prevent and manage chronic conditions. These efforts are supported by the LIHC Live Better campaign, an effort to raise awareness about better self-care of chronic diseases.