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COVID disparities persist for Black Americans. But there are lessons for the future

A new report from the Black Coalition Against COVID highlights the racial disparities and health inequities Black Americans continue to face in the pandemic.
Octavio Jones
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A new report from the Black Coalition Against COVID highlights the racial disparities and health inequities Black Americans continue to face in the pandemic.

Two years into the pandemic, Black people in the U.S. still face wide health disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the economic and social fallouts, compared to other racial groups.

The new report from the Black Coalition Against COVID comes as hospitalization rates for Black Americans were recently the highest they've been since the pandemic's start.

"As we reflect on two years of lived experience and myriad data sources, we know COVID-19's toll on Black Americans is ongoing," Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the director of the Office for Health Equity Research at Yale University, said.

"This report draws attention to the continued disproportionate burden experienced by members of the Black community and will help guide advocacy and policy efforts to address these inequities — both during the current pandemic and beyond," she said.

The Black Coalition Against COVID commissioned the report along with the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine, and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine.

"We hope to bring attention to the continued burden of COVID-19 in the Black community, even as we as a nation have made incredible progress overall. Even as we celebrate achievements towards COVID-19 equity, we know there is more work to do," the groups said in the report.

The physical and mental heath disparities are significant

The report points to several disparities Black Americans faced in the pandemic's early years, including access to vaccines and booster shots. More recently, though, inequities are emerging around the long-term effects of COVID for Black people.

"Solutions are needed to increase equitable and affordable access to Long COVID care and supportive resources. Efforts are also needed to ensure inclusion of Black Americans in Long COVID trials, treatment programs, and registries," the report says.

The researchers also highlight that Black Americans are facing significant behavioral health challenges as a result of COVID-19. Black Americans are more likely to report experiencing anxiety and depression because of the pandemic, and substance use disorders have also increased.

One study cited in the report found that opioid overdoses increased among Black people in Philadelphia by as much as 52.1% between January 2019 and June 2020. Overdoses decreased 24% among white people in that same time frame.

Economic and social fallouts are also impacting Black Americans disproportionately

In addition to health care disparities, the report points to massive economic and social gaps between Black and white Americans. Black students experienced high rates of learning loss compared to white students. Food insecurity among Black families was twice as high as white families, the report says.

The authors of the study recommend a health justice approach to tackling the pandemic's racial disparities and the social and economic fallouts that have come with it, saying policymakers should weigh the impacts that education, housing, child care and food security have on health equity.

They also say collecting more data is extremely important in continuing to track and reveal inequities.

"If we are going to effectively address health equity among Black Americans, having access to the most precise data is vital," they said.

"The work ahead will be more challenging than ever and requires well designed, adequately funded, and strategically coordinated efforts at the national, regional, state, and local levels," the report says. "The time is now to recognize health equity is the work of everyone and for each one of us to do our part on the journey."

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