As the COVID-19 Pandemic Shifts to the South and West, the Disparate Impact on Communities of Color Will Follow

The geographic shift of the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks to states in the South and West is expected to intensify the well-documented disparities in the health and economic impacts of the pandemic on people of color — especially Hispanics, according to a new KFF analysis.

Twenty-three of the 33 states identified as coronavirus hotspots as of July 8 are in the South and West. The 23 states account for just over half (51%) of the nation’s overall population, but are home to more than 7 in 10 of all Hispanic individuals (71%) in the U.S. Overall, nearly two-thirds of all people of color (62%) in the U.S. reside in these states, compared to less than half of Whites (43%). Moreover, in a number of these states, people of color account for a larger share of the population compared to their share of the U.S. population overall.

Data already show that the pandemic has taken a harder toll on people of color in many of these states, with these groups accounting for a higher share of cases and deaths relative to their share of the population. The disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 for people of color mirror and compound underlying inequities in social and economic circumstances that leave people of color at higher risk of being exposed to the virus, experiencing serious illness if they contract the virus, facing barriers to accessing health care, and experiencing financial challenges due to the economic disruption caused by the pandemic.

The findings point to the importance of continuing to prioritize health equity as part of response and relief efforts and directing resources to communities who are at the highest risk and experiencing disproportionate effects.