CDC study examines racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 hospitalizations

A new study found that racial and ethnic minority groups had a higher proportion of COVID-19 hospitalizations from March to December 2020 compared with white patients.

The study, released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also found that Latinos and Hispanics had the highest rates of hospitalizations.

“Racial and ethnic disparities were largest during May-July 2020 and became less pronounced as the pandemic spread throughout the country; however, disparities remained in December 2020 in all regions,” the study said.

The agency evaluated administrative discharge data for approximately 300,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients to assess trends across the U.S.

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Researchers assigned proportionate hospitalization ratios that calculated racial and ethnic minority patients with COVID-19 relative to non-Hispanic white patients.

For example, in the Northeast, Hispanics made up 14% of hospitalized patients with COVID-19, compared with 6.88% of whites and 12.6% of Blacks.

In the western region, Hispanics made up 11.5% of all COVID-19 hospitalized patients from March through December 2020, compared with 4.36% for whites and 6.73% for Blacks.

“The largest disparities in the proportion of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 occurred early in the pandemic (April-July 2020) and became less pronounced over time as COVID-hospitalizations increased among White patients,” the study said. “However, as of December 2020, disparities remained among racial/ethnic minority groups in all regions, most notably among Hispanic patients in the West.”

There are some limitations with the study. For instance, American Indian or Alaska native patients, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander patients and patients reporting multiple races were aggregated into a non-Hispanic or other race category to protect patient privacy, CDC said.

“Therefore, proportions of COVID-19-related hospitalizations among these groups could not be assessed,” the study said.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., said the agency has made new and expanded investments to address racial and ethnic minority disparities in healthcare.

“These disparities weren’t caused by the pandemic but they were certainly exacerbated by them,” Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday.