They are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than other racial and ethnic groups.
The Los Angeles Times published an important story over the weekend. It's about Monica Ramirez, a California mom who recently gave birth while in a coma due to COVID-19. The LA Times story is about Ramirez's experience, but it's also about how different groups of Americans are experiencing the pandemic differently.
Ramirez is Latina, and so are the majority of pregnant mothers contracting COVID-19.
A new study published in October 2020 in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology found pregnant Latina moms are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than other racial and ethnic groups. Unlike Ramirez, the woman in the LA Times story who got very sick, most of the women in the study were asymptomatic but positive for COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 9,360 pregnant women who identify as Hispanic or Latino have had COVID-19 since January. White, non-Hispanic mothers are the second most represented group with 7,135 cases. Black and Asian pregnant people are next, with 4,598 and 643, respectively.
As the Los Angeles Times reports: "Of the 48 pregnant women who have been admitted to Loma Linda University Medical Center with COVID-19, 45 are Latina—an extreme snapshot of a disease that has infected and killed Latinos at a rate disproportionate to their share of the population."
The disparities are not confined to California, where Latinx and Hispanic people make up more than 39% of the state population. Back in July the Chicago Tribune pointed out that in the state of Illinois, Black and Latina moms made up 70% of COVID-19 cases in pregnant people. At the time, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health data, 49% of pregnant people with COVID-19 were Hispanic and 23% were Black—but Latinx and Black people make up just 14% and 15% of Illinois' population.
In the months since, the COVID-19 rates for pregnant Latina moms have continued to grow at a rate disproportionate to the total national population, while white, non-Hispanic moms are now outpacing Black moms when it comes to catching COVID-19 during pregnancy.
"Women were routinely tested for COVID-19 as they came to Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital for delivery," says Dr. Beth Pineles, the first author of the study that found pregnant Latina moms are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than other racial and ethnic groups. "It's important to test everyone, because if you only test people who are symptomatic, you'll get a lot more people who test positive. Universal testing allows you to get an unbiased estimate of who is being infected, and our study found that Hispanic women were much more likely to have the virus."
A maternal-fetal medicine fellow with McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Pineles says this study doesn't answer the question of why pregnant Latina moms are nearly twice as like to catch COVID-19 then the general pregnant population, but that the "research seems to point to more social and cultural reasons versus any type of genetic disposition."
We know that a large percentage (65%, according to ABC News) of the United States' Latinx population work in essential jobs, putting them (and those in their households) at a greater risk for COVID-19 infection, and, according to the Pew Research Center study, 59% of Latinx people surveyed in May said their household experienced job losses or cuts in wages early in the pandemic.
Health insurance is another factor. In Pineles' study, only 2.5% of patients with private health insurance contacted COVID-19, compared to 9.5% of moms with public insurance. This is important when you consider that in 2017, about 39% of Hispanic people had public health insurance. (And we're not even talking about uninsured mothers here, of which there are many—especially among the United States' Latinx population).
There are a lot of factors at play here, and we don't have the exact answers as to why pregnant Latina women are overrepresented in COVID-19 statistics. What we do know is that it is unacceptable and that all moms need to support each other to ensure no mama or baby is more vulnerable to COVID-19 or any other health issue because of their race, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
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