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Select Committee discusses health impact of COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

St. Paul, Minnesota — Today, the House Select Committee on Minnesota’s Pandemic Response and Rebuilding held a hearing on the disparate health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.

“It is clear that COVID-19 is having a much greater negative impact on Minnesota’s communities of color than white Minnesotans. It’s important for us to better understand why this is happening and how the Minnesota Legislature can take action to help, both in the short term and into the future,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “We have to do all we can to save lives and prevent needless suffering and tragedy.”

According to the most recent report from the Minnesota Department of Health, Black Minnesotans account for 10 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths despite making up only 6 percent of the total population. The number of cases (Black Minnesotans account for 20 percent), hospitalizations (23 percent) and ICU admissions (21 percent) show even larger disparities. The data also show disparities in the Hispanic community for cases (Hispanics account for 17 percent), hospitalizations (15 percent), and ICU admissions (16 percent).

When looking at age-adjusted numbers, communities of color have significantly worse outcomes on each of these COVID-19 metrics than white populations. The case rates for Hispanic and Black Minnesotans are both more than five times the rates for white persons. The death rate for American Indians is more than six times as high as the death rate for white Minnesotans.

“As we continue to navigate this unprecedented health crisis, we must make sure all Minnesotans have access to equal care to eliminate these terrible gaps that shorten lives and create unthinkable hardships for families,” said Rep. Mohamud Noor. “This hearing shed some light on the current situation and how we can improve life and longevity for all of our neighbors, no matter where they live and what they look like.”

A review by the Mayo Clinic found that as of June 2020, African Americans were 22 percent of US cases but just 13 percent of the population. Hispanics were 34 percent of US cases, but 18 percent of the population. Death rates in each group were two times those of white Americans.

“People of color are being attacked by COVID-19 from both directions: they often have worse access to health care, leading to chronic conditions that make them more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19, and economic inequities often place them in jobs and working conditions that increase their risk of getting the virus,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “It is critical for us to address these tragic inequities and provide resources to keep all Minnesotans safe.”

Testifiers at the hearing included Dr. Beth Thielen, Minnesota Doctors for Health Equity & Asst. Professor, University of Minnesota; Dr. Dimitri Drekonja, Minnesota Doctors for Health Equity & Assoc. Professor, University of Minnesota; Dr. Farhiya Farah, Director, Assistant Professor, Public Health Programs, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota; Haweya Farah, Clinical Specialist, Transmedics; Stella Whitney-West, CEO, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center; and Dr. Brian Yablon, Physicians for a National Health Program—Minnesota & Asst Professor, University of Minnesota.

Committee members and testifiers discussed a variety of solutions and actions that the legislature and state government could take to address the problem, including access to paid sick leave so people can stay home and avoid spreading the disease, investments in public health infrastructure, affordable child care, health care access, and housing; better engagement with community members, improved data reporting, combating misinformation about vaccines, planning for the COVID recovery with a focus on equity, and better state planning for future pandemics.

Materials from the hearing can be found here. Video of the hearing will be available on the Minnesota House of Representatives YouTube page here