Minorities still hit harder by COVID-19 in state

The coronavirus pandemic has affected racial minorities in Colorado at rates far higher than their portion of the state’s population, newly released statistics show. In fact, Hispanics make up more COVID-19 cases in Colorado than do Caucasians.

According to a report released Aug. 20 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Hispanic people have accounted for nearly 38% of all patients hospitalized for COVID-19 between March 1 and Aug. 15, even though they represent just 22% of Colorado’s overall population. At one point in May, the health department reported, more than half of the COVID-19 patients in hospitals were Hispanic.

White people were disproportionately less likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, accounting for 41% of hospitalized patients despite representing nearly 68% of Colorado’s population.

The same disparity was evident among the state’s Black population, the report said. They make up just 4.6% of Colorado’s overall population but accounted for nearly 10% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19.

“This hospitalization data is another example of how historical inequities negatively impact health outcomes,” said Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, the state health department’s executive director. “That fact is especially apparent during emergencies like the pandemic. CDPHE, the state of Colorado and our local partners are dedicated to eradicating these longstanding inequities. It’s why we are investing in community-based testing sites and multilingual communications, as well as fostering robust stakeholder engagement.”

The data was collected under provisions of Public Health Order 20-27, which outlines what demographic data hospitals must submit to the state. According to an Aug. 20 news release, about 55% of hospitals in the state submitted their data to CDPHE, but that accounts for 91% of COVID-19 patients who have been treated in hospitals in Colorado.

The data also showed that about half of hospitalized patients were age 60 or older, 31% were younger than 50, nearly 40% were between 50 and 69 years old, and men were 6% more likely to be hospitalized for the virus than women.

During the period, hospitals in Boulder County reported 2,252 COVID-19 cases and 79 deaths. The figure was 521 and 33 in Broomfield County, 1,849 and 39 in Larimer County, and 3,979 and 146 in Weld County.

The disproportionate number of Latino cases likely is related to the large number of people in that demographic who work in the food industry, including farm workers, grocery store employees, truck drivers and employees in processing plants. The deaths of several Latino workers from coronavirus at the JBS meat-packing plant in Greeley forced a shutdown of the plant in April for deep cleaning and to screen workers.

A survey released in August by the national research group “Latino Decisions” found that nearly one in four Latinos in Colorado either have become ill because of the virus or know someone who has, about 27% say they want to get tested but can’t, and one in five Latino family-owned businesses in the state has shut down.

According to the state health department’s news release, “CDPHE is committed to correcting health inequities, when possible, during the pandemic. To that end, the agency has moved to community testing sites. The sites are open to anyone, regardless of immigration status or insurance coverage. In addition, translations are a priority in the response. The agency provides robust resources consistently in six different languages. There is also a statewide informational campaign in development that will leverage research that studied historically marginalized populations. Additional examples involve specific populations, such as the agriculture community.”

A silver lining in the statistics, the department said, is that the racial disparities in COVID-19’s impact seem to have shrunk over time — more than half of those hospitalized for COVID-19  in May were Hispanic in the state — and the spread of the virus in the state also are trending downward.

Citing the racial disparities, the NAACP issued a report offering recommendations including the adoption of policies that “increase access to child care, health care and humane, sanitary living conditions to at-risk, vulnerable populations,” advocating “for the establishment of a paid leave system, strengthened OSHA standards, provision of training and safety gear and routine testing for all workers,” and “equal standards of sanitation, safety, and health.”