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Why Communities of Color Are Hardest Hit by COVID-19

The latest statistics from the pandemic are as telling as they are abhorrent. By the start of summer 2020, black Americans were hospitalized and/or died from COVID-19 at a rate about 5 times that of white Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Likewise, other communities of color have experienced much higher hospitalization and death rates than whites.  Recently, it was found that if people of color had experienced the same mortality rate as whites, as of late May, more than 14,000 Black Americans would still be alive today, along with 1,200 Latino Americans and 400 indigenous Americans (APM, 2020). 

While a discussion of why communities of color are hardest hit can never be fully realized in a blog post, it’s important to understand that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. was already in a public health crisis. Over 50% of these communities have a chronic health condition which compromises their immune system and predisposes them to suffer from major illnesses, including, but not limited to COVID-19. These pre-existing conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, and obesity with rates which are 40% to 60% higher compared to white Americans.  The racial difference in health outcomes is striking.

The mortality and morbidity that we see in COVID-19 is directly related to decades of institutionalized racism and the impact of generational racism within communities of color. Racism, after all, plays out in the rationing of equipment for individuals who test positive for the virus and even in back room decisions about who is eligible to get tests.

Granted, a myriad of factors give rise to the health disparities that have been underscored by COVID-19. What we know for sure is that black Americans are more likely to be essential workers in our society, those who must work and interact with other people. This takes on many forms, including delivery drivers, meat packing plant and grocery store employees, and transit workers. Communities of color also are disproportionately low-wage workers, unable to face the reality of not working. Our system sets the stage for how a disease takes its course, because the reality is that many Americans don’t have the luxury of working from home and altering their livelihood to a virtual environment in the same way white Americans and other affluent Americans have been able to do so. 

The realization is simple: Communities of color work with people face to face. This, in combination with the fact that black Americans, Latinos and Native Americans shoulder a higher burden of chronic disease, creates a perfect storm for being hard hit by any infection. What COVID-19 has done is exacerbate these racial disparities even more. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing the outrage from a community that is sick and tired of being sick and tired. 

Stress, another key player in disease formation, is another serious risk factor. When people are put in stressful situations, their breath becomes more shallow, oxygen is poorly circulated throughout the body and the immune system is shut down. 

The body’s physiological response to stress is having a huge impact on our communities of color. In fact, racial and ethnic minorities frequently report experiencing a wide range of stressors on any given day, from financial strain, relationship problems, discrimination to health complications. These stressors compound on one another and accumulate over time to adversely affect both the mental and physical health of the individual, his family, and community.

Medicine often overlooks critical factors which create a ticking time bomb just ready to explode to any moment for many of these communities of color. The lack of access to quality health care, nourishing foods (i.e., fresh produce, and clean water while often living in regions with detrimental levels of environmental toxins and pollutants are huge compounding factors. Residents tend to live in small apartments with a sizable number of other individuals which do not facilitate social distancing (a critical factor which allows the coronavirus to spread like wild fire in these communities). 

Note:  Many of the current living conditions arose out of discriminatory policies from the past, particularly the government-supported neighborhood redlining from the 1930s to the 1960s. This practice kept black communities from building wealth through limited access to advance education, getting bank loans, and rampant discrimation in the workplace. 

Even after the 1960s laws prohibiting redlining, the effects of these practices persist to this day. De facto is still around even though we were taught it was a practice of the past. The systematic denial of services have limited people’s opportunities to get decent jobs and education domestically. This has led to an overrepresentation of communities of color in poverty and working face-to-face labor jobs, which, again, are two factors preventing many from staying at home to work in 2020.

Once you have a great understanding of the past, you may gain a better perspective on all of these health disparities. Overcoming all these systemic deficits is vital!  There is an opportunity for everyone to help make a difference by finding creative ways to get involved and have your voice heard. We each are the change makers.  

To overcome the road ahead, I encourage you to follow some of my guidelines I’ve written about at length this year to stay above the illness curve. You CAN BEAT COVID-19. 

Let your healing journey begin:

Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health.

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concerns.  We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plans. To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.



APM Research Lab Staff. (2020). The Color of Coronavirus: Covid-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S. Retrieved August 16, 2020 from:

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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