Systemic racism drove higher COVID-19 mortality for Black people study says

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Black people are more likely to die of COVID-19 than their White counterparts due to systemic racism, according to a Wayne State University study published in April.

Physician researchers led by Wayne State Medical School Infectious Diseases Professor Dr. Teena Chopra looked at where the people who died during the Spring 2020 surge of COVID-19 in Southeast Michigan lived.

Dr. Teena Chopra is a professor of infectious diseases at Wayne State University.

They found that people were more likely to die from COVID-19 if they lived in environments with high rates of poverty, unemployment and other social determinants of health that often are caused by systemic racism, Chopra said. 

The finding was announced in “Elevated COVID-19 Related Mortality Risk Among Hospitalized Inpatients from Socially Vulnerable Census Tracts,” published April 6 in EClinical Medicine, an open-access clinical journal published by The Lancet. 

Using U.S. Census tract data, the researchers found that the highest mortality was among people from neighborhoods that rank high on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index – a tool for assessing the impact of stressors like poverty, unemployment and high school dropout rates that are known to contribute to poor health.

The study found no relationship between COVID-19 mortality and the color of a person's skin, Chopra noted. What mattered were the conditions in which they lived. 

"There was no relation between COVID-19 mortality and race," she said. "We found that the Black population in large urban centers — these populations are not inherently at greater risk for higher mortality, but our results supported the possibility that it is the social/economic vulnerability. 

“Systemic racism is implicated because we feel it shapes the circumstances and policies that are responsible for the inequitable distribution of resources across communities of color,” Chopra said.

Twitter: @kbouffardDN