While the increased burden of COVID-19 among the Black population has been recognized, most attempts to quantify the extent of this racial disparity have not taken the age distribution of the population into account. In this paper, we determine the Black–White disparity in COVID-19 mortality rates across 35 states using direct age standardization. We then explore the relationship between structural racism and differences in the magnitude of this disparity across states.
Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we calculated both crude and age-adjusted COVID-19 mortality rates for the non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Black populations in each state. We explored the relationship between a state-level structural racism index and the observed differences in the racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality across states. We explored the potential mediating effects of disparities in exposure based on occupation, underlying medical conditions, and health care access.
Relying upon crude death rate ratios resulted in a substantial underestimation of the true magnitude of the Black–White disparity in COVID-19 mortality rates. The structural racism index was a robust predictor of the observed racial disparities. Each standard deviation increase in the racism index was associated with an increase of 0.26 in the ratio of COVID-19 mortality rates among the Black compared to the White population.
Structural racism should be considered a root cause of the Black–White disparity in COVID-19 mortality. Dismantling the long-standing systems of racial oppression is critical to adequately address both the downstream and upstream causes of racial inequities in the disease burden of COVID-19.