Report: COVID-19 hits blacks, Hispanics harder

New age-adjusted death data follows same pattern

A BAKER ADMINISTRATION advisory group released new data on Friday indicating the impact of COVID-19, including fatalities, is falling disproportionately on blacks and Hispanics.

According to the data, blacks account for 7.2 percent of the state’s population but 14.4 percent of COVID-19 cases and 13.8 percent of hospitalizations. Hispanics account for 12.2 percent of the population, but 29.3 percent of the cases and 15.8 percent of the hospitalizations.

By contrast, whites account for 71.5 percent of the population but only 45.3 percent of cases and 57.2 percent of hospitalizations. Asians account for 7 percent of the population, but only 3.2 percent of cases and 3.8 percent of hospitalization.

Using the same methodology, whites account for 73.5 percent of deaths, blacks 8.2 percent, Hispanics 6.8 percent, and Asians 2.8 percent.

But the advisory group said a better way of looking at fatalities was to use age-adjusted data, “given differences in the underlying age distribution of the MA population by race, and differences in COVID-19 death trends by age.”

Using that approach, the age-adjusted death rate for blacks was highest at 161.4 per 100,000 black residents. For Hispanics, it was 132.8 per 100,000. Whites and Asians were much lower, at 75.3 per 100,000 and 65.6 per 100,000.

A separate chart indicated blacks and Hispanics have higher age-specific death rates in every age grouping. In the 50-59 age bracket, the fatality rate per 100,000 was 18, 77, and 72, respectively, for whites, Hispanics, and blacks. The rates for blacks and Hispanics were more than three times higher than for whites, but the total amount of deaths among all three ethnics groups was just 242.

In the 80-plus age category, 3,855 whites, 268 blacks, and 214 Hispanics died. But on an age-specific basis, the rates per 100,000 were 1,492, 2,389, and 2,112, respectively.

Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and Alaskan natives had the highest age-specific fatality rate of all. In the over-80 age category, it was nine times the rate for blacks.

Asked for help in understanding the age-adjusted data, Omar Cabrera, a spokesman for the Department of Public Health, issued the following statement: “Age-adjustment is a method that allows us to account for differences in the underlying age distribution of the populations of interest. It involves weighting the death rates to a standard population. This is necessary because the white non-Hispanic population in MA tends to be older than other race/ethnicity groups. Age-adjusting shows us the rates we would see if the populations of interest (people of color) had the same age distribution as the white, non-Hispanic population.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group blamed the disparate impact of COVID-19 on “racism, xenophobia, and lack of economic opportunity.” It urged state officials to track things like the ability to work from home, availability of child care, and access to uncrowded transit across the heavily impacted communities to make sure resources are distributed properly. Key resources were identified as personal protection equipment, housing, access to health care, and multilingual outreach.

One possible inequitable distribution of key resources revolved around COVID-19 testing. The advisory board said the overall testing rate in Massachusetts is 10.4 percent. Several municipalities with the highest case rates – Chelsea, Brockton, Lawrence, and Lowell – had above average testing rates, ranging from 15 percent to 28 percent.

But the report noted that a number of towns also had high testing rates even though they were not among the communities with the highest case rates. The group included Ayer, Bedford, Gardner, Shirley, Chilmark, and Tisbury.