Racial Disparities and COVID-19

Hyunwoo Lee

A striking example of systemic racism in America is the racial disparity found in the spread of COVID-19. As explained in an article published in The Atlantic by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi (Kendi 2020), public health issues have always impacted lower-class groups and groups of marginalized races disproportionately, and this is no different for the current pandemic. Dr. Kendi's work inspired The COVID Racial Data Tracker (Atlantic 2020), a project that aims to record racial data for cases and deaths of COVID-19.

My project serves to provide some insight on this racial disparity found in COVID-19 data.

The numbers, at a glance

This infographic created by the CDC goes into detail as to how COVID-19 affects different races and ethnicities differently. You'll be able to see a clear disparity from the numbers alone (CDC 2020).

Why does this disparity exist?

There are a host of factors that contribute to both economic and social inequality in race, as well as subsequently in susceptibility to COVID-19. The CDC lists 5 factors that contribute to increased risk (CDC 2020):

  • Discrimination

  • Access to healthcare

  • Occupation (racial minorities in essential work)

  • Educational, income, wealth gaps

  • Housing (crowded, unsanitary environments)

Some other factors not taken into account (Ford et al. 2020):

  • Access to resources, such as information about the spread of the virus, masks, and sanitation

  • Existence of co-morbidities like hypertension, diabetes, etc.

  • Access to testing in underprivileged communities

  • Economic Crisis (due to the pandemic)

Loopy Model

I created a model on Loopy, an introductory visual modeling tool, which is embedded to the right. The blue nodes are possible factors in Black, Latinx, or Indigenous communities, and the purple nodes indicate the disparity in the number of cases reported, the number of infections, and the number of deaths.

You can play with the model by pressing the up/down arrows on the nodes. This will show you how certain changes in the factors affect the rest of the factors, and, ultimately, the number of deaths, infections, and cases reported.

To get started, press the up arrow on either "Class Disparities" or "Economic Crisis."


COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity. 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/investigations-discovery/hospitalization-death-by-race-ethnicity.html

Ford T, Reber S, Reeves RV. 2020 Jun 17. Race gaps in COVID-19 deaths are even bigger than they appear. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/06/16/race-gaps-in-covid-19-deaths-are-even-bigger-than-they-appear/

Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups. 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html

Kendi IX. 2020 Apr 13. What the Racial Data Show. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-exposing-our-racial-divides/609526/

The COVID Racial Data Tracker. 2020. The COVID Tracking Project. https://covidtracking.com/race

The content of these pages was created by students for students with the help of educators, modelers, and scientists. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF or ISB.