Racial make-up is a bigger coronavirus indicator in nursing homes than facility size, local infection rates

Coronavirus nursing home.
(Image credit: David Ryder/Getty Images.)

The great equalizer it is not.

COVID-19 has left no population untouched in its relentless spread around the globe, but some groups within the U.S. are facing the virus' wrath at disproportionately high rates.

Nursing home residents and black Americans are suffering from increased infection and fatality rates, and The New York Times reported Thursday that nursing homes with mostly African-American and Latino residents are twice as likely to suffer from coronavirus outbreaks than their majority white counterparts.

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Nursing homes have already accounted for more than one third of the country's death toll from the virus, which is days away from reaching 100,000. African Americans are dying from the virus at a rate almost three times that of white people, The Guardian reports, so it's of little surprise to some healthcare professionals that the disease is now festering prominently in the groups combined.

"Typically, what occurs in the general population is mirrored in long-term care facilities," Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer for the American Health Care Association, told the Times.

The infection rate in nursing homes with primarily black and Latino residents seems to have more to do with race than any other factor. Even when accounting for other indicators such as facility size, federal ratings, and local infection rates, the Times found majority black and Hispanic homes were still worse off. The analysis did not determine whether there were racial disparities within the same nursing home.

In Maryland, where 80 percent of nursing homes with high black and Latino populations have reportedly had outbreaks, one nursing home in Baltimore reported 233 employee and resident cases and 20 deaths.

At some facilities, workers have complained about poor conditions that have facilitated the spread of the virus, including staffing shortages and a lack of adequate personal protective equipment. In several different facilities serving large African-American and Latino populations, workers reported receiving rain ponchos, hair bonnets, and plastic swimming goggles in lieu of PPE.

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Marianne Dodson

Marianne is The Week’s Social Media Editor. She is a native Tennessean and recent graduate of Ohio University, where she studied journalism and political science. Marianne has previously written for The Daily Beast, The Crime Report, and The Moroccan Times.