How SC Health Addresses Health Inequities From COVID-19

November 12, 2020

The year 2020 pushed many Americans past their breaking point. More than any other year in our collective memory, 2020 has been unprecedented.

In early March, our country enacted a nationwide shutdown, abating many small businesses and affecting the health, both physical and mental, of countless citizens. Overnight, COVID-19 changed the way we behave and think about the world and each other.

This summer, wildfires raged through the west coast and left our friends there to breathe in contaminated air, and many lost their homes and businesses.

This entire year has embodied the longstanding fight for racial equity in our country.

This calendar year will soon come to a close, but the next couple of months will bring upon more challenges. Flu season is fast approaching, and no one can claim they know exactly what to expect. The hardships we all have faced in 2020 will not go away once the clock strikes midnight as we enter 2021. As a leader in your city, it is your responsibility to continue to set a good example for your community and its citizens.

We’ve heard it time and time again: “Wear a mask!” It is often overlooked that wearing a mask not only protects the wearer, it protects others from the wearer who may potentially be infected, unknowingly spreading the disease. The safest practice is for all people to be masked. This scenario leads to the lowest risk of transmission. Wearing masks in social situations is both prudent and necessary.

However, far too many people in America do not have access to the resources needed to properly protect themselves and others from the virus.

Face masks cannot protect you if you cannot afford one.

While COVID-19 swept through the country, it made us all aware of another public health issue that existed in this country far longer than coronavirus: racial inequity within our healthcare system.

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the United States. These communities have experienced significantly higher rates of infection and death from COVID-19.

According to the CDC’s statistics as of October 9, 2020*:

  • 200,499 Americans have died from COVID-19
  • Black or African American, Non-Hispanic persons are
    • 2.6 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than White, Non-Hispanic Persons
    • 4.7 times more likely to require hospitalization for their symptoms than White, Non-Hispanic Persons
    • 2.1 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White, Non-Hispanic Persons
  • Hispanic or Latinx Persons are
    • 2.8 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than White, Non-Hispanic Persons
    • 4.6 times more likely to require hospitalization for their symptoms than White, Non-Hispanic Persons
    • 1.1 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White, Non-Hispanic Persons
  • American Indian or Alaska Native, Non-Hispanic Persons are
    • 2.8 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than White, Non-Hispanic Persons  
    • 5.3 times more likely to require hospitalization for their symptoms than White, Non-Hispanic Persons
    • 1.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White, Non-Hispanic Persons

*Race could only be determined for 95% of COVID-related deaths at this time.

[I]nequities in health [and] avoidable health inequalities arise because of the circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age, and the systems out of place to deal with illness. The conditions in which people live and die are, in turn, shaped by political, social, and economic forces.

World Health Organization Commission on the Social Determinants of Health (2008)

Why are these communities more likely to be adversely affected by COVID-19? Several barriers—known as social determinants of health—exist for some individuals in these communities that prevent them from exercising their right to a healthy life. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to: discrimination by the medical community; lack of access to reliable and affordable healthcare; lack of transportation to and from a healthcare facility; lack of access to nutritious foods and food insecurity; housing that is crowded or transient, particularly as many affected by the pandemic lost their home; jobs that are deemed “essential” or do not allow for time off; and pre-existing conditions that have gone untreated or undiagnosed.

Many of these factors coexist, and health inequity has long gone unaddressed in this country. But the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the disproportionate health burden that these specific communities face.

Whether it is the cost or lack of accessibility of face masks hindering people from wearing them, the point remains that masks are useless when they cannot be purchased. Wearing a mask is a life-saving act of care and respect toward others and the ability to protect one’s own health should be a basic human right; SC Health has donated over 500,000 masks to communities in need.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our company has set out to make a difference. The SC in SC Health commonly stands for “Serving Communities,” such as those in our backyard or those across the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable, and often worrisome, divisiveness in the country. But it has also brought people together like never before, even if socially distanced. The only way we will get through the pandemic is if we continue to focus on the greater good, look out for one another, and do our parts to protect ourselves and others.