Study sheds light on COVID-19 disparities in Massachusetts

Being a recent immigrant to the U.S., living in a household with many people, and working in the food service industry appear to be among the top drivers of high COVID-19 case rates in Latino communities in Massachusetts, according to a new study from researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study, published August 27, 2020 in Health Affairs, also looked for factors linked with high COVID-19 case rates among Black residents, but didn’t find clear answers. Possible explanations could be disproportionately high incarceration rates, living in multiunit residential buildings with high population density, and greater use of public transportation to get to work, said study lead author Jose Figueroa, assistant professor of health policy and management, in a STAT article. “We really need to try to understand all of this structural discrimination,” he said.

The study quantified COVID-19 cases from Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns. Researchers found that a 10 percentage point increase in the Black population of a community was associated with an increase of 312 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, while a 10 percentage point increase in the Latino population was linked with an increase of 258 cases per 100,000.

“We knew that these communities were being hit harder, and the question was, how much more,” said Figueroa in a Boston Globe article. “We can now put a number to the burden on these Latino and Black communities. And it is significant.”

Other Harvard Chan authors of the study included research assistant Dennis Lee and Benjamin Sommers, Huntley Quelch Professor of Health Care Economics.

Read the STAT article: Immigration status, housing, and food-service work explain Covid-19’s burden on Latinos

Read the Boston Globe article: New study confirms staggering racial disparities in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts