Underlying Health Disparities Could Mean Coronavirus Hits Some Communities Harder

As the coronavirus spreads across the country, millions of Americans already struggling with health and finances — especially those in minority communities — could bear the brunt of it.

New data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that COVID-19 patients with underlying health issues in the United States are more likely to need treatment in a hospital — or even in an intensive care unit. They are also at higher risk of dying, according to earlier epidemiological data from both China and the U.S.

Because health and wealth in the U.S. are so often linked, the coronavirus could hit low-income populations here much harder, experts say.

The elderly are the hardest hit by the disease, accounting for about 80% of fatal cases in China and the U.S., according to CDC data.

But studies have also shown that underlying health issues such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease can also make COVID-19 more dangerous, as the disease taxes already-burdened organs.

Whenever there is a disaster, people in low-income groups always tend to be the most impacted.

Pinar Keskinocak, Georgia Institute of Technology

More than a third of American adults — 105 million people — are at higher risk of serious illness if they get infected with the coronavirus, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of CDC data. For most of them, their age puts them in danger: More than 76 million Americans are 60 or older. The remaining 29 million people are younger but have underlying health issues.

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