“ The coronavirus is killing Hispanic, Black and American Indian children at much higher numbers than their White peers, according to federal statistics released Tuesday.
The numbers — the most comprehensive U.S. accounting to date of pediatric infections and fatalities — show there have been 391,814 known cases and 121 deaths among people under the age of 21 from February to July.
Of those killed by covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, more than 75 percent have been Hispanic, Black and American Indian children, even though they represent 41 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency collected data from health departments throughout the country.
The disproportionate deaths among youths echo pandemic disparities well-documented among adults. Previous studies have found the virus’s death toll is twice as high among people of color under age 65 as for White Americans. People of color also disproportionately make up “excess deaths” — those killed by the virus without being diagnosed or those killed indirectly by the virus’s wide effects on the health-care system.
The racial disparities among children are in some ways even more stark.
Of the children and teens killed, 45 percent were Hispanic, 29 Black and 4 percent American Indian.
“This is the strongest evidence yet that there are deep racial disparities in children just like there are in adults,” said John Williams, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “What that should mean for people is steps like wearing a mask are not just about protecting your family and yourself. It is about racial equity.”
One key factor could be underlying health disparities among minority children and young adults. About 75 percent of those who died had at least one underlying condition, and the most frequent were asthma and obesity — two conditions that disproportionately occur in minority youths.
“On one hand, the small total number of deaths is reassuring. You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of children infected, and only 121 killed,” said Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “At the same time, proportions at which minority groups are dying are hard to ignore.”
The CDC report pointed to underlying social disparities that minority children are more likely to experience than their White peers: crowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, parents who are essential workers and cannot work from home, wealth and education gaps and difficulty accessing health care because of a lack of family resources including insurance, child care, transportation or sick leave.”