According to a new analysis by researchers, ethnic minorities in the US experienced disproportionately high levels of cardiac deaths during the pandemic – in comparison to the rates in 2019
The US documented higher rates of heart disease and death in 2020 than they did in 2019. With the pressure of COVID crushing healthcare systems globally, the ICU was the highest priority for stressed and drained healthcare workers. Many of them are now dealing with PTSD symptoms.
The pandemic further highlighted racial health inequalities, with a disproportionate amount of deaths and hospitalisations due to the virus happening in ethnic minority communities. While many scientists have explored the why and what of this, what about non-COVID related deaths that increased during this tragic period?
Scientist describes cardiac deaths as ‘indirect effect’ of pandemic
Corresponding author Rishi K Wadhera, a cardiologist in the Smith Center for Outcomes Research in Cardiology at BIDMC, said: “Although the direct toll of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minority groups has been substantial, our findings suggest that Black, Hispanic and Asian populations have also been disproportionately impacted by the indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Disruptions in access to health care services during the pandemic may have had a larger impact on the health outcomes of Black and Hispanic individuals, as these populations have a higher burden of cardiovascular risk factors and disease, due in part to structural and systemic inequities. In addition, social determinants of health associated with cardiovascular risk, such as poverty and stress, have worsened in these communities as a result of the pandemic.”
19% increase in heart disease deaths for minorities
They found that Black, Hispanic and Asian populations had about a 19% relative increase in heart disease deaths, and a 13% relative increase in cerebrovascular disease deaths in 2020 compared to the previous year. The increase in deaths due to heart disease and cerebrovascular disease was significantly more pronounced among racial and ethnic minority populations compared with the non-Hispanic white population, which experienced a 2% and 4% relative increase in deaths.
Why did this increase so disproportionately?
The team found the difference in deaths to be startling, and then they looked at why.
A few factors are believed to be the reason for this disparity, including disruptions in healthcare delivery in minority communities, unequal access to Zoom-type of healthcare, and avoidance of healthcare systems (out of fear of COVID).
The American Heart Association recently found that that Hispanics and Black Americans were most likely to stay home if they were having a heart attack or a stroke – to avoid the risk of catching COVID and dying at the hospital.
Immigration policy also responsible for increase
Ethnic minorities also experience disproportionate poverty in the US, with levels increasing during the pandemic. Roughly 60% of Black households reported serious financial issues due to COVID, while only 36% of white households reported the same problems.
Policy measures undertaken by the Trump administration in early 2020 put some documented immigrants at risk of being denied permanent residency if they also had poor health. Hispanic and Asian immigrant families may have avoided seeking care for cardiovascular disease, due to wanting their residency.
Cardiologist Rishi K Wadhera further commented: “The extent to which disruptions in health care delivery, avoidance of care due to fear of contracting COVID-19 and/or immigration policy, and worsening inequities in social determinants of health have contributed to the increase in heart disease and cerebrovascular deaths remains an important area for future research.
“These data highlight that public health and policy strategies are urgently needed to mitigate the short- and long-term adverse effects of the pandemic on the cardiovascular health of minority populations.”