People of color have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and new research is heightening concern about the susceptibility of children in these communities. They are infected at higher rates than white children and hospitalized at rates five to eight times that of white children, the data shows. Children of color also make up an overwhelming majority of those who develop a life-threatening complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C.
Black adults die of COVID-19 at about twice the rate of white adults. Black children—if my arithmetic is correct—die at about 5x the rate of white children. This matches their hospitalization rate, which is also about 5x higher than white children. Hispanic children are even worse off: they’re hospitalized at about 8x the rate of white children.
It’s mind boggling that we still don’t know what’s behind this. I’ve read endless studies of racial disparities caused by various kinds of systemic racism: Maternal mortality is 50 percent higher among Black mothers. Black drivers are pulled over 100 percent more often than white drivers. Etc. But what accounts for gaps that are so much larger? Like 200 percent worse? Or 400 percent worse? Or, in the case of Hispanic children hospitalized for COVID-19, a stunning 700 percent worse? Why?
“Children don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Dr. Monika K. Goyal, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington….“They live in homes where their parent or caregiver doesn’t have the luxury of telecommuting, so they are at increased risk of exposure,” she added. “They are also more likely to live in multigenerational households. It’s all connected.”
…Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford, agreed: “I know exactly what’s happening to those kids. Their parents are frontline, blue-collar or essential workers.”
This is probably true, but does it account for the size of the gap? As Goyal says in a newly published study, “these observed racial/ethnic disparities in infection rates only slightly attenuated after adjustment for socioeconomic status.” In other words, even when you do comparisons with poor white families who also work in essential jobs, use more public transportation, and so forth, Black and Hispanic families still contract COVID-19 at much higher rates. We need far more concrete research about what could account for such huge disparities than we’ve gotten so far, and we need it now.