As students across the country return to classrooms, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the majority of children, teens and young adults who die from COVID-19 are Hispanic, black or Native American.
Researchers found there was a staggering racial disparity in the more than 390,000 coronavirus cases and 121 deaths among people under the age of 21 reported to the CDC between February 12 and July 31.
Hispanic, black, and Native American children accounted for 78% of those deaths, even though these groups make up only 41% of the US population, a disproportionate effect that reflects a similar disparity among adults. Previous research has shown that the number of deaths from COVID-19 is twice as high for people of color under 65 as it is for white Americans.
“The results did not surprise me at all,” said Monika Goyal, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at the National Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC. Goyal, who was not involved in the CDC’s research, conducted a study published in the journal Pediatrics this month that found that among 1,000 children tested for COVID-19 at a site in Washington in March and April , children of color were disproportionately represented in the 20% who tested positive.
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Underlying health conditions, including asthma, obesity and heart problems, were also a risk factor for children. The report found that 75% of the children who died had at least one underlying condition.
The report states that social disparities such as “overcrowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, disparities in wealth and education, and racial discrimination” are factors that may have contributed to these racial inequalities.
The researchers also noted that adults belonging to racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to be essential workers who are at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus and can then pass it on to those in their households. The higher rates of adverse outcomes may also be linked to difficulties in accessing health care services “due to lack of insurance, childcare, transportation or paid sick leave”.
“What COVID has done is really shine the spotlight on these long-standing health disparities that affect children and people of color in our society,” Goyal said. “I really hope this is a call to action, that we, as a society, come together to really try to alleviate these disparities by addressing these root causes.”
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The study authors said that young people who are racial or ethnic minorities or have underlying conditions and their caregivers would benefit from clear and consistent prevention messages against COVID-19. Goyal also focused on wearing masks, limiting the risk of exposure, and looking for signs and symptoms.
The researchers also found that the majority of deaths occurred in older patients: 70% of those who died were between 10 and 20 years old, while only 10% were infants under one year old.
The majority of these deaths occurred after the children were admitted to hospital, but 32% of the deaths occurred at home or in the emergency room.
Goyal said that while any death among young people is alarming, it is important to note that “the risk of death is extremely low” for children who contract COVID-19. Americans under 21 make up just 0.08% of the more than 190,000 deaths reported across the country.
“I think it’s important that the public don’t panic,” she said. Fortunately, the majority of children have a mild infection and recover.
The study authors also noted that during the period of data collection, the majority of child care providers and schools were closed. As these facilities reopen, the number of pediatric deaths linked to the coronavirus may change and should be monitored, they said.
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