A new MIT Sloan School of Management study has found evidence that race may be just as important as underlying health conditions in determining someone’s likelihood to die from COVID-19.
The study, by Christopher R. Knittel, George P. Shultz, professor of applied economics at MIT Sloan and Bora Ozaltuna, graduate research assistant in the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR) lab looks at a number of factors that lead to death from COVID-19, including patients’ race, age, health and socioeconomic status, and other environmental factors. The research found that among these factors, race, on its own, contributes to one’s chances of dying from COVID-19.
The study, which looks at county-level COVID-19 death rates from April 4–May 27, controlled for patients’ income, weight, diabetic status and smoking habits. Still, they found African American people were more likely to die from the Coronavirus than white people. The study notes that obesity rates, ICU beds per capita and poverty rates did not have any detectable correlations to death from the disease. These findings mean that other, less easily-measurable social factors explain the racial disparities.
“Why, for instance, are African Americans more likely to die from the virus than other races? Our study controls for patients’ income, weight, diabetic status, and whether or not they’re smokers,” Knittel said in an MIT press release. “So, whatever is causing this correlation, it’s none of those things.”
The average county level death rate from COVID-19 in the U.S. has been 12 per 100,000 people. That rate doubles for every ten percentage point increase in Black population for that county, the research revealed.
“We must examine other possibilities, such as systemic racism that impacts African Americans’ quality of insurance, hospitals, and healthcare, or other underlying health conditions that are not in the model, and then urge policymakers to look at other ways to solve the problem,” Knittel said.
The paper has been released as a Center for Energy and Environmental Policy working paper and is in the process of being released as a working paper on medRxiv.