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Mayo Clinic doctor explains how COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affects minority populations

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- The coronavirus pandemic is disproportionally affecting certain ethnicities and communities. And a person's socioeconomic status may play a role according to Mayo Clinic.

"Death rates are 2.4 times higher for African Americans compared with whites and 1.5 times higher for Hispanic or Latino and indigenous groups," said Mayo Clinic Internal Medicine Physician Dr. Mark Wieland.

Dr. Wieland says socioeconomic status and existing health inequities like chronic disease can lead to worse COVID-19 outcomes. Disproportionate access to healthcare can also play a role.

"But then if we widen beyond that biomedical lens, there are additional observations that may increase susceptibility," Wieland said. "So living conditions. Communities with higher racial, ethnic, and minority populations have higher housing density, more housing insecurity. This makes social distancing harder. There's less access to healthy food, which makes chronic disease management more difficult."

Wieland continued to say these minority populations may be less likely to work from home, have less sick leave and are more likely be an essential worker.

"So in total, both the disproportion of biomedical risk factors and the social determents that connects them, leads back in part to a foundation of structural racism," Wieland said. "So the legacy of redlining and housing segregation comes to mind is just one example of the ways in which these inequities were put in place by design."

Wieland says the COVID-19 crisis can provide a way to act on the root cause of these issues.

"Short term solutions include things like testing under tested communities with low SES (socioeconomic status), enhanced contact tracing, keeping accurate data as it relates to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic position," said Wieland. "Long term solutions include authentic community engaged pandemic preparedness, equitable vaccine roll out."

As for the disparity here in Olmsted County, Dr. Wieland said African Americans and the Hispanic/Latino population make up roughly 15 percent of the population and account for 57 percent of the positive COVID-19 cases.

Sarah Gannon

Sarah Gannon

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