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Do social determinants of health explain racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection?


Racial/ethnic minorities have experienced higher COVID-19 infection rates than whites, but it is unclear how individual-level housing, occupational, behavioral, and socioeconomic conditions contribute to these disparities in a nationally representative sample. In this study, we assess the extent to which social determinants of health contribute to racial/ethnic differences in COVID-19 infection. Data are from the Understanding America Study's Understanding Coronavirus in America survey (UAS COVID-19 waves 7-29). UAS COVID-19 is one of the only nationally representative longitudinal data sources that collects information on household, work, and social behavioral context during the pandemic. We analyze onset of COVID-19 cases, defined as a positive test or a diagnosis of COVID-19 from a healthcare provider since the previous survey wave, over a year of follow-up (June 2020-July 2021). We consider educational attainment, economic resources, work arrangements, household size, and social distancing as key social factors that may be structured by racism. Cox hazard models indicate that Hispanic people have 48% higher risk of experiencing a COVID-19 infection than whites after adjustment for age, sex, local infection rate, and comorbidities, but we do not observe a higher risk of COVID-19 among Black respondents. Controlling for engagement in any large or small social gathering increases the hazard ratio for Hispanics by 9%, suggesting that had Hispanics had the same social engagement patterns as whites, they may have had even higher risk of COVID-19. Other social determinants-lower educational attainment, working away from home, and number of coresidents-all independently predict higher risk of COVID-19, but do not explain why Hispanic Americans have higher COVID-19 infection risk than whites.

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