As COVID-19 Cases Spike in Minnesota, Racial Disparities in Infection Rates Persist

African American doctor using cotton swab while PCR testing small boy at medical clinic.

Medical experts point to a variety of reasons for these disparities, including poorer health as a result of structural racism and a hesitancy to get vaccinated.

Tiffany Bui reports:


As COVID-19 cases spike in Minnesota, racial disparities in the infection rates persist. 


Data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows that Black, Latinx and Pacific Islanders are contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than white Minnesotans, when adjusting for age.


Medical experts point to a variety of reasons for these disparities, namely poorer health as a result of structural racism and a hesitancy to get vaccinated. 


According to Dr. Mary Owen, director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health, vaccinations in tribal nations aren’t coming as quickly as they used to. She said a combination of factors contribute to someone not getting the vaccine, which can include misinformation and just general fear and anxiety. 


“We’re living in a time that’s really frightening in the first place,” said Owen, “and on top of it, we’ve seen things happen to our climate that are terrible. In Native communities, we see more of our folks impacted. So there’s just this baseline of fear, I think that’s already there, it’s just simmering. And so when you introduce something different, like a vaccine that some people are saying isn’t safe, I think it feeds into some of those fears.”


Owen said her center is focusing on targeting groups who may have more questions about getting vaccinated, particularly pregnant people and parents of young children. 


Black and American Indian Minnesotans have the highest gains in vaccination rates week over week, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. MDH’s Senior Equity Adviser Dr. Nathan Chomilo said the department has held 1,000 vaccination events focused on communities of color. However he acknowledged disparities in infections still exist.


“Folks who have underlying health conditions because of  long standing disparities in access to health care, nutrition, environmental exposures – all those things continue to persist. We haven’t fixed those with a vaccination campaign,” Chomilo said.


This week, Minnesota reported the highest number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 this year, further diminishing the number of hospital beds available across the state.



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