Blacks in New Orleans, Baton Rouge faced twice the risk of whites for COVID-19 study says
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A new study shows how community deprivation and individual factors like race, marital status impacted risk for contracting COVID-19 early in the pandemic.
A study by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Ochsner Health found that African Americans in New Orleans and Baton Rouge faced twice the risk of whites of being infected with the virus.
Kara Denstel, MPH, is Project Manager for Population and Public Health Sciences at Pennington.
“We found that people who were black, this is New Orleans and Baton Rouge, people who were black had a greater risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection than people who were white,” said Denstel.
The study published in the Journal PLOS sought to determine whether an individual is at greater risk of getting infected because of community or individual risk factors.
Amy Feehan, Ph.D., a clinical research scientist at Ochsner Health is the study’s lead author.
“Essentially, we found that yes, a lot of individual factors play a role and community factors play a role, but when you weigh them against each other your individual risk factors seem to make up most of the risk,” said Feehan. “The ones that we measured in the study were things like what kind of job you had, race, ethnicity, age.”
The New Orleans data was collected in May 2020 and the Baton Rouge data was collected in July of that year.
The data shows household size impacted risk for getting the virus.
“We found in New Orleans that folks that live in a house with more than one person, with more than just themselves whether they were married or they had families were at greater risk than people who lived alone,” said Denstel.
Researchers also found that infection risk for single adults was 50% higher than for married adults.
And in Baton Rouge, younger adults had a higher risk of infection than older people.
The study found that in Baton Rouge risk of infection was higher for individuals between 18 and 37 years old.
“For Baton Rouge interestingly, we found that it was younger people who had a greater risk compared to older people,” said Denstel. “We think that we saw younger age as a risk factor for a higher infection rate in Baton Rouge because it was those younger people who were starting to re-engage, we live in a college town, right?”
But the study does not answer why the risk of infection was so much higher for blacks than whites.
“Unfortunately, when you do these like big snapshot types of studies it doesn’t really get into the why because that would require us to really talk to people, get a lot of history and background and they were over 5,000 participants in this study, so we didn’t have the manpower to do that,” said Feehan.
She was asked if health disparities could be a contributing factor in the risk differences.
“Absolutely and health disparities, I mean that’s not new to the pandemic,” said Feehan.
She said while situations like crowded housing may not be an easy fix for some people everyone can get vaccinated, and wear masks to help protect themselves.
Link to the study: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0260164
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