COVID-19 Disproportionately Affects African American and Latinx Communities

Friday, May 29, 2020 Contact

As we grapple with the devastating infection and mortality rates of Coronavirus, there are communities and populations who are disproportionately affected. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on disparities and economic injustices in our health care system. 

According to recent media reports, African Americans are diagnosed with and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups. 

In an initial advanced study published last month Laurencin and McClinton (2020) state, “Blacks have a higher rate of infection and death in comparison to their population percentage in the state of Connecticut.”  

For some, this is not new information: Social Workers and other medical professionals have long advocated addressing – and fixing - deficiencies and biases in the country’s health care system. 

For others, the COVID-19 pandemic has cast an indisputable light on decades of inequities in health care. 

Today, it is costing many lives. 

One reason is African American and Latinos often lack access to primary health care. They also are more likely to be essential workers and thus unable to work from home. These are increased risk factors for exposure and contracting COVID-19. 

There are environmental factors also leading to higher infection rates: Incidences of asthma, living in food deserts with limited access to healthy eating choices which, of itself, leads to high incidence of chronic disease such as diabetes and high blood pressure. 

Together, these factors lead to African Americans and people of color being at higher risk for exposure to the virus, for contracting it and succumbing to it. 

A Centers for Disease Control study suggests people with underlying health conditions, including hypertension, obesity, diabetes and lung disease – all common among African Americans - are more susceptible to dying from COVID-19.  

Native-Americans and Latinos also have high rates of diabetes and hypertension. They are at high-risk for becoming infected and dying from COVID-19. 

There is a lack of consistent and adequate reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths because of incomplete collection of racial and ethnic data. 

If we are unable to collect accurate data, then government and other institutions are unable to implement adequate health care policy during and after this pandemic. 

Social Workers are on the frontlines battling COVID-19 in communities and hospitals around the country. 

We are well-versed in social inequities, biases and disproportionalities affecting communities of color in the health care system. 

Social Workers are positioned to advocate for improvements, educate communities on preventing the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring access to services for all. 

We should ensure all symptomatic individuals are referred for COVID-19 testing, particularly African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. 

More funding and resources should be directed to communities most affected by COVID-19. These resources should include access to rapid testing and diagnosis of COVID-19 and preventive treatment for underlying health conditions. 

The National Association of Social Workers last month outlined a Social Justice Brief, the “Implications of Coronavirus (COVID-19) for America’s Vulnerable and Marginalized Populations.” I encourage you to read this brief. 

Other organizations, such as the National Association of Black Social Workers, or NABSW, are also planning to publish policy statements. 

As Social Workers, we must continue to research, advocate and influence policy changes that reduce and eliminate health disparities. Part of influencing policy is making your voice heard to elected officials, completing the 2020 Census and voting in local, state and national elections. 

I encourage our current and graduating Social Work students, alumni, staff, faculty and community partners to advocate at all levels for improvements in our health care system, health access for all and to eradicate health disparities. 

In a few weeks our faculty will host a virtual discussion on health disparities. I ask for your support by watching and spreading the word. 


Scott D. Ryan
Dean and Professor
School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Arlington

Laurencin, C. T., & McClinton, A. (2020). The COVID-19 Pandemic: a Call to Action to Identify and Address Racial and Ethnic Disparities. Journal of racial and ethnic health disparities, 1–5. Advance online publication.