Doctors from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center say that Latina and Black pregnant women in their hospitals are testing positive for COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. They looked at cases from the 14 hospitals covered by the medical center’s neonatology division, stretching from the Dayton area to Northern Kentucky.
Dr. Scott Wexelblatt, regional medical director of newborn services with Cincinnati Children's, said over 160 mothers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the hospitals they serve. About 40% of those women were Hispanic and 30% were Black.
The numbers of Hispanic women testing positive are especially high compared to the demographics of the region. Butler, Montgomery and Hamilton Counties in Ohio all have populations that are only 5% Hispanic or less, according to estimates from the U.S. Census.
Dr. Amy Rule, a newborn hospitalist with Cincinnati Children’s, said that the question of why these disparities exist is complicated. One factor may be that people in these communities are more likely to be "essential workers" without access to personal protective equipment.
Challenges with isolating at home or taking off work for people in these communities may also contribute to the disproportionately high rates.
Rule and other doctors at Cincinnati Children’s are partnering with infectious disease researchers at the University of Cincinnati to better understand the causes of the racial disparities in COVID-19 cases in the area. They will be conducting surveys beginning this week looking at health disparities across the board, including community surveys in Spanish to target the Latino community.
“We ask about knowledge of COVID, about where people’s sources of information are, and then what challenges they may have experienced in accessing care,” she said. “Are they experiencing any food, housing or other challenges during the pandemic?”
With the information, researchers hope to create a series of educational and resource interventions. Rule said one possibility is creating self-isolation kits with disinfecting wipes, masks and other supplies COVID-19 patients need when isolating at home.
The medical center has also created resource sheets in Spanish for coronavirus patients, and has put out videos in Spanish through their All Children Thrive Learning Network.
Rule said these communities were vulnerable before the pandemic, and will continue to be vulnerable after the pandemic.
“I think the thing about COVID is that it's kind of torn this bandage off of the existing health disparities that already exist in our society,” she said. “We have an opportunity as a community to figure out how to make that [the vulnerabilities of these communities] less true in the future and hopefully create a system where everybody has access to the health care that they need.”