ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota's public health leaders predicted early on that the coronavirus pandemic would hit persons of color and Native American Minnesotans harder, due in part to historic disparities in income and access to medical care.
That hunch has been borne out in the early data collected throughout the state, showing disproportionate numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
Minn. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Friday that Black Minnesotans who make up 6.6% of the state's population thus far account for 17% of all lab-confirmed infections and 19% of hospitalizations.
There's a similar trend for the state's Latinx residents. They make up 5.5% of the state's population, but 14% of COVID19 cases and 9% of hospitalizations thus far.
"We do know that people of color and Native Americans are experiencing multiple inequities in income, housing, employment etc. that make them disproportionately susceptible to multiple health issues and chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and severe asthma," Commissioner Malcolm told reporters Friday.
She said persons in those racial and ethnic groups have more opportunities to be exposed to the virus, because they're overrepresented in the work force that has been deemed essential in this crisis, including food production and long-term nursing care.
"This public health crisis is exposing and exacerbating the racial, economic and educational inequities that have been here all along," Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan told reporters during Friday's COVID-19 response briefing.
Flanagan, who is a member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, noted that Indigenous Minnesotans are 28 times more likely to be homeless compared to the population as a whole. And the homeless as a group are already registering high infection rates.
"We also know that Black and LatinX Minnesotans have increased exposure to the virus because of the higher rates of work and low-paying jobs that are now considered essential such as childcare providers and grocers."
Lt. Gov. Flanagan and Minn. Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero are co-chairing the Community Resiliency and Recovery working group to delve more deeply into the inequities and solutions that can sustain communities that have historically been at a disadvantage.
Commissioner Malcolm said addressing those racial and ethnic disparities will be taken into account as the state responds to cluster outbreaks across the state and applies new strategies.
For example, achieving equity will be one of goals as the state develops the protocol for distributing its supplies of the remdesivir, a drug that has shown in early clinical trials to shorten hospital stays for COVID-19 patients.
Drugmaker Gilead has donated a supply of remdesivir to the federal government which, in turn, is sending Minnesota samples to test in hospitals here.
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.