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Need to understand racial disparity in COVID deaths

Racial minorities have been hit far harder than white Americans by COVID-19. Throughout the epidemic, that has been a constant.

But why? Theories abound. One is that African-Americans, whose average incomes are lower than those for whites, do not benefit from as high a quality of health care.

Obviously, that speculation needs to be explored — but it is not satisfactory as a stand-alone explanation for the disparity.

Black and Native American people have suffered much more than whites. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, proportionately, Black people are infected by COVID-19 2.6 times more often than white people. Their hospitalization rate is 4.7 times as high and their death rate is more than twice that for whites.

Native Americans infected by the virus are hospitalized 5.3 times as frequently as whites. They perish 1.4 times as often.

Reaction to the numbers has been spotty. As The Associated Press reports, Black clergy leaders and the United Way of New York City are partnering to provide more resources to the minority community in that urban area. Better testing and contact tracing are among goals.

New York City is highly unusual in that regard, however. In most areas, there are no specialized initiatives aimed at safeguarding minorities against COVID-19.

While the New York campaign has common-sense appeal, there is much about how the coronavirus affects human beings of all skin colors that we do not know. Why are minorities hit harder? What can we do about that?

It is entirely possible that new pandemics will invade the United States. But we know COVID-19 behaves differently than many other viruses. So what guarantee is there that if safeguards against this disease are developed for minorities, they will be effective against another epidemic?

None. Still, the research needs to be a priority for the simple reason that COVID-19 will continue to be a widespread threat for months — and that what we learn about it may provide information critical in battling other diseases in the future.

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