COVID-19 hospitalizations linked to health, environmental and racial factors

Medical workers move new coronavirus patient Rosane Pacheco to be treated at the Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara hospital in Marica, Brazil, Thursday, May 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – In addition to traditional risk factors such as age, pre-existing health conditions and those with a compromised immune system, health experts suggest other circumstances–some of which are out of a person’s control–may contribute to an increase in serious coronavirus side effects

Low income, public insurance and black race are just a few of these factors Louisiana researchers found in a report published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study, conducted through a collaboration between Ochsner Health Center for Outcomes and Health Services Research and the University of Queensland Ochsner Clinical School, retroactively assessed data from 3481 who tested positive for the coronavirus between March 1 and April 11 and followed these patients through May 7.  

Research participants included were 70 percent black and 30 percent white. Data analyzed the relationship between COVID-19 hospitalizations and race, sex, insurance type, obesity as well as a Charlson Comorbidity Index score – a health screening tool indicating a person with a greater burden of illness. 

In terms of health status, people with a higher Charlson Comorbidity Index score were 5 percent more likely to be hospitalized and those classified as overweight were 43 percent more likely. 

There was also a disparity between uncontrollable factors. Blacks, for example, were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized than whites. Females were 44 percent less likely to be admitted compared to men. Those from low income neighborhoods were 22 percent more likely to be admitted compared to their non-low income dwelling counterparts. And those on public insurance compared to private insurance were 65 to 73 percent more likely to be hospitalized. 

Authors suggest a few reasons why the disparities might exist, especially when it comes to the racial differences. Black patients, they report, had a higher prevalence of obesity, diabetes and hypertension–all of which represent pre-existing health conditions. This may have contributed to why 80 percent of blacks received critical care or were placed on ventilators.

At the time of this report, 43 percent of COVID-19 cases and 39 percent of deaths in Louisiana were in and around New Orleans.