Coronavirus Impact: Black COVID-19 patients nearly 3 times more likely to be hospitalized, study finds

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A newly-published study reveals black patients diagnosed with COVID-19 are nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized for treatment than non-Hispanic white patients also diagnosed with the disease.

An early copy of the report set to be published in the Journal Health Affairs later this summer and conducted by Sutter Health was provided to ABC7 News. The report, released online Thursday, was fast tracked for an early release given the importance of the findings.

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ABC7 News spoke to Sutter Health's Chief Medical Officers Dr. Stephen Lockhart about the findings of the study. "The brunt of the burden of this disease and its negative impacts have been on communities of color, particularly African Americans," Lockhart said.

The study pulled data from Sutter's two dozen hospitals and more than 100 clinics across the state and focused the 1,052 confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 under their care.

Sutter Health has hospitals in 22 counties in California, including each of the Bay Area's counties.

"African American patients are almost three times more likely than white patients to be hospitalized. There was also a greater tendency for them to be admitted to the ICU as well," said Lockhart.

According to the study, more than half of all African American COVID-19 patients had to be hospitalized for treatments, compared to a fourth of white patients requiring a hospital stay - nearly three times as likely.

Even more alarming, the study also revealed one in four African American patients have to be moved to an intensive care unit for life-saving treatment compared to just one in 10 white patients.

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Lockhart believes, in part, access to testing is the issue. "Our African American patients are coming in later and sicker. So, it's not about necessarily who was tested, but when," he said.

Lockhart added that black patients were also more likely to be tested for the virus at the hospital instead of at a testing site or clinic, which could lead to lesser health outcomes.

Some early reports that sounded the alarm on racial disparities in health outcomes after a COVID-19 diagnosis may not have provided a full picture given the lack of race or ethnicity information available for patients in the data.

The study conducted by Sutter Health identified 14,036 patients who were tested for COVID-19 and racial and ethnic data was available for virtually all patients tested.

Lockhart encourages greater outreach efforts to reach the black community so patients don't wait until they're sick to get tested. He would like to see more asymptomatic testing in black neighborhoods like the pop-up testing site that now comes to Antioch Baptist Church in San Jose on Wednesdays.

Lockhart warns that race and trust may be another issue as the state's focus shifts to increased contact tracing in the fight against COVID-19. "There's really little chance this will work well in our communities unless we do have not only culturally competent but probably also race concordant contact tracers. Contact traces are really community workers who are going through and talking to folks," Lockhart said.

Blacks make up only 6% of the state's populations, but currently account for 10% of COVID-19 deaths, according to state data.

Lockhart hopes other health networks will join Sutter Health in continued outreach to black and brown communities to provide more equitable care for marginalized communities.

Read the full study here.

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