Experts point to factors like employment, poverty, housing as causes of racial disparity in infection rates

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Members of the National Guard performing COVID tests for anyone who drove up to the old Department of Transportation building on Stickney Avenue in Concord in May. Concord Monitor File Photo

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People of color continue to be disproportionately infected by COVID-19 in New Hampshire, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Black, Hispanic, Asian residents only make up about 10 percent of New Hampshire’s population, yet they account for about a quarter of the state’s COVID-19 infections. This trend is in line with national data that show people of color in the United States have a much higher rate of hospitalization due to COVID-19 than white Americans.

Cliff Brown, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Public Health, said a couple of factors could contribute to the disparity.

People of color make up a large portion of the foodservice industry, which might put them in contact with a higher-than-average number of people on a daily basis during the pandemic. Furthermore, people of color may be more likely to live in a large household, making it more difficult to social distance.

Kirsten Durzy, epidemiologist and member of NH’s COVID-19 Equity Response Team. Photo/NASTAD.org

Kirsten Durzy, an epidemiologist on the state’s COVID-19 Equity Response Team, said while her team is trying to address the root causes of the disparity, it’s important to recognize that much of the inequality stems from larger issues like wealth distribution and systemic racism.

In a report published by the governor’s equity response team Wednesday night, experts recommended a variety of steps New Hampshire can take to mitigate these racial disparities. They said the state should make COVID-19 testing more accessible to vulnerable populations, like people of color with underlying health conditions. Putting testing sites in vulnerable communities might remove some barriers like a lack of transportation. They also recommended mandating masks in places where essential workers work to protect the staff, who tend to be disproportionately comprised of people of color.

The most immediate course of action the state needs to take, Durzy said, is expanding the amount of information the state has about this problem. The team is currently compiling more data on the disparity of COVID-19 infections, which will be available to the public in the coming weeks.

New Hampshire differs from national trends in that people of color are getting sick and hospitalized for COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate, but white people are dying disproportionately compared to their population.

Brown said this could be because non-whites who are getting infected are younger, and therefore less likely to die from the virus. However, because people of color are more likely to have an underlying health condition in the United States due to deep-rooted inequalities, they may require hospitalization more frequently than their white counterparts.


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