Hispanic Americans have died from COVID-19 at a disproportionately high rate compared to whites due to exposure to the virus in the workplace, a new study suggests.
It is widely documented that Hispanics are overrepresented among workers in essential industries and occupations ranging from warehousing and groceries to health care and construction, much of which continued to operate when most of the country shut down. its doors last spring.
Analysis of federal data has shown that, given their representation in the U.S. population, much higher percentages of working-age Hispanics – 30 to 69 – have died from COVID-19 than whites in the same groups. of age. A separate review of case estimates showed a similar pattern of unevenly high COVID-19 infection rates for Hispanics – meaning high deaths in the working-age Hispanic population are consistent with high exposure to the virus .
“There was no evidence prior to this article that really demonstrated that the excess cases belonged to precisely these working age groups,” said Reanne Frank, professor of sociology at Ohio State University and co-author of the ‘study.
“Particularly for frontline and essential workers, among whom Hispanics are overrepresented, COVID-19 is an occupational disease that spreads at work. Hispanics were on the front lines and they bore a disproportionate cost.”
Identifying a link between essential work and a higher rate of death from COVID-19 should lead to better protections at work, said study co-author D. Phuong (Phoenix) Do, associate professor of policy and Administration of Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. .
“If we know the source of the spread, we can tackle it head-on,” she said. “This finding applies to any highly contagious disease. We cannot stop the economy – we have learned that. There must be a way to protect workers and strengthen protection.”
All analyzes were based on the most recent data as of September 30, 2020. The research is published in the journal Demographic Research.
Since COVID-19 death rates are highest among the elderly, the fact that a much higher percentage of Hispanics are in the younger age groups than whites means excessive deaths Hispanics were initially masked. Age-adjusted data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2020 showed Hispanics made up 19% of the population, but nearly 41% of deaths from COVID-19.
When it became clear that deaths from COVID-19 were disproportionately high among minorities, commentators often suggested that unequal access to quality health care, higher levels of pre-existing conditions and multigenerational households were the main causes, as well as exposure as frontline workers.
At the time, however, “there was no case data to support this hypothesis of workplace vulnerability, which we found most compelling in trying to understand excessive deaths among Hispanics,” said Frank, also affiliated with the faculty of Ohio State’s Institute for Demographic Research.
Using the CDC’s age-stratified counts within racial / ethnic groups, the researchers compared the proportion of COVID-19 deaths attributed to whites and Hispanics with the relative size of the population in each group. Nationally and in most states, in all age groups under 75, Hispanic deaths were disproportionately high and deaths among whites were disproportionately low. An example from national data: Hispanics aged 35 to 44 and 55 to 64 experienced a higher-than-expected proportion of deaths of 15.4 and 8 percentage points, respectively. In contrast, whites in those same age groups had mortality advantages of 23 and 17 percentage points, respectively.
When it comes to CDC case surveillance data, the researchers found the same patterns at the county level. Overall and within each age group, whites were disproportionately under-represented among COVID-19 cases, while Hispanics were over-represented, with the largest excess of cases among those of age to work: 30 to 59 years old.
Among the reported cases, Hispanics had fewer pre-existing health conditions than whites, and there were no significant differences between working-age Hispanics and whites in the percentage of infections that resulted in death. Therefore, the researchers said the case data do not support pre-existing comorbidities and / or substandard health care being determinants of excess Hispanic mortality.
“If the death rates are comparable between racial and ethnic groups, and they are, but we see big differences in the number of deaths, which we are doing, then we need to focus on the differential exposure,” he said. declared Do. “So what we’re seeing is that these two models are consistent with a higher case load being the determining factor for the higher death burden among Hispanics.
“The evidence does not support the other hypotheses. The data in this case supported the hypothesis of workplace exposure, but not unequal access to health care or unequal quality of care, no pre-existing conditions and no multigenerational exposure of households. “
The researchers said the trends revealed in the data would ideally deter what amounts to blaming victims – attributing an unevenly high rate of COVID-19 deaths among Hispanics to risks associated with individual health behaviors or living conditions rather than ‘to their over-representation in the essential workforce. , often in low-wage jobs.
“There is that impetus when we try to understand racial disparities in health – even news like COVID that has arisen very quickly – to obscure the role of structural factors, which include work environments,” Frank said. “This evidence can hopefully set the record straight as to why the Hispanic community, as well as other groups overrepresented among frontline workers, have been so badly affected by this pandemic – that it ‘was because they were doing their job and getting in line. “