It's been a year since COVID-19 descended. But one thing hasn't changed: The pandemic is still having a disproportionate effect on Black people and other people of color in Oregon.
The most recent Oregon Health Authority weekly report shows that since the pandemic began, Black, Indigenous and Pacific Islander communities have had higher COVID-19 hospitalization rates than all other racial groups. That is, if they contract the virus, they are more likely to get sick enough to require a stay in the hospital.
Duncan Hwang, associate director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, says it's due to institutional racism that's even more challenging to address during the chaos of a pandemic.
"I'm not surprised the disparities still exist—we have unsolved racism in public health," Hwang says. "I don't think we're doing enough to address disparities. It's a major national issue as well."
As WW reported last week ("Low on the Food Chain," March 10, 2021), the state's vaccine distribution priorities haven't successfully addressed the disparities.
Even as COVID-19 vaccines are distributed to tens of thousands of Oregonians per day, shots don't appear to be reaching the populations most at risk—and white Oregonians are still vaccinated at a higher rate. White people have received 72% of all vaccine doses administered; no other racial group exceeds 4%.
"When you're 65 and older in our community, it's difficult to get in queue for those who don't speak English," Hwang says. "If you do get lucky enough to get a spot, you have to figure out how to get there for both shots. And when you get there, is somebody going to speak your language? These are all major barriers and I think that explains why there's disparities in vaccinations."
Since the pandemic began, 1,409 Pacific Islanders have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 1 in 10 landed in the hospital for it. Here's the percentage of each racial group that required hospitalization after testing positive for the virus.
Pacific Islander 10.6%
Alaskan Native 7.9%
Source: Oregon Health Authority
This reporting has been funded in part by a grant from the Jackson Foundation. See more Black and White in Oregon stories here.