Improved measurement of racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 mortality in the United States
Goldstein, Joshua Robert
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Different estimation methods produce diverging accounts of racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 mortality in the United States. The Center for Disease Control's decision to present the racial/ethnic distribution of COVID-19 deaths at the state level alongside the weighted racial/ethnic distribution of the counties within each state reporting those death -- in effect, a geographic adjustment -- makes it seem that Whites have the highest death rates. Age adjustment procedures used by others, including the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, lead to the opposite conclusion that Blacks and Hispanics are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than Whites. In this paper, we use indirect standardization methods to adjust per capita death rates for both age and geography simultaneously, avoiding the one-sided adjustment procedures currently in use. Using CDC data, we find age-and-place-adjusted COVID-19 death rates are 80% higher for Blacks and over 50% higher for Hispanics, relative to Whites, on a national level. State-specific estimates show wide variation in mortality disparities. Comparison with nonepidemic mortality reveals potential roles for preexisting health disparities and differential rates of infection and care.