The disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on certain populations is not a surprise to UC Berkeley researchers Rachel L. Berkowitz, Xing Gao, Eli K. Michaels, and Mahasin S. Mujahid.
“It is but the latest disease to travel through neighborhoods along paths of inequity created by structural racism,” said Berkowitz, a research fellow from Berkeley Public Health.
In a commentary published in the Journal Cities & Health in July 2020, the researchers write that the conditions that led to inequitable rates of COVID-19 throughout the US were pre-existing—and in part neighborhood-based—and that the COVID-19 pandemic is a global call to address health inequities in structurally vulnerable neighborhoods.
Since the novel coronavirus began to spread in the United States, there has been increasing evidence that Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities have been and are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic. And the US is not alone in seeing these inequities. Racial and ethnic inequities in COVID-19 mortality and positive cases have also been observed in countries like Brazil and the United Kingdom.
Before the COVID-19 hit structurally vulnerable neighborhoods, which are more often populated by people of color, conditions like air pollution, insufficient resources, and limited recreational space may have already increased risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. And during the pandemic, preexisting conditions like crowded living conditions may also increase exposure to the novel coronavirus because social distancing is not possible to practice.
In their commentary, the commentary’s authors make recommendations for practical solutions to neighborhood inequities at both local and national level. Launching neighborhood-based projects and implementing “Health in All Policies”, a framework provided by WHO, may help to prevent the same health inequities in future pandemics or infectious disease outbreaks.