| LITTLE ROCK — Researchers from multiple Arkansas agencies conducted an eight-month study that found Hispanic and black populations in the state had higher COVID-19 infection rates than whites.
This project, which Open Forum on Infectious Diseases published, used the seroprevalence of anti-COVID-19 antibodies as an indicator. Antibodies are created by a person’s immune system when they contract a virus or receive a vaccine to help fight a specific disease.
Joshua Kennedy, MD, an associate professor at the University of Arkansas College of Medicine for Medical Sciences (UAMS) who treats patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, was the report’s lead author.
Minorities in Arkansas who are contracting the virus at such a high rate are problematic, he said.
“The higher exposure levels among minorities are not surprising,” he said. “However, the magnitude of the difference in exposure rates is what was surprising, especially at the start of the pandemic.”
The number of Arkansans, regardless of ethnicity, exposed to COVID-19 increased from 2.6% to 7.4% from August 2020 to December of the same year. The researchers studied nearly 6,000 serum samples from adult Arkansas outpatients who had medical appointments for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. The study focused on three specific periods during the aforementioned August to December period.
Throughout the study, Hispanics and blacks were more likely than whites to have antibodies against COVID-19.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Arkansas has a population of just over 3 million. The 2021 census figures show that whites make up 79% of the state’s population. Blacks make up 15.7% and Hispanics 7.8% of Arkansas’ population.
There was no difference in COVID-19 infection rates for minorities who reside in its two population centers – located in the central and northwestern regions of the state – compared to rural areas. .
Studies are ongoing on why blacks and Hispanics in Arkansas have higher COVID-19 infection rates than whites. At this point, researchers only have theories for development.
Structural racism, inadequate food options, being from low-income households, working in jobs that didn’t offer the option of working from home, having limited access to a primary care physician and limited access to adequate healthcare coverage are some of the health-related barriers in many minority populations. Ultimately, these issues can lead to delays in care and in communication regarding the implementation of public health practices, leaving these patients vulnerable to pandemic infections.
Additionally, Arkansans 18-29 and 30-39 had the highest infection rates in terms of age. The information also showed that minorities made up the highest percentage of cases.
“We suspect that the higher level of antibody seroprevalence in these populations is secondary to exposure risk,” Kennedy said. “While we can’t say for sure, we believe these groups were the ones that had to continue working during the pandemic, therefore their risk of exposure was higher.”
The study researchers noted how their information underscores the need to know why minority populations in Arkansas are much more often exposed to COVID-19 than white people. Finding out the concrete reasons why this happened would help health officials fix the problem.
“As we enter a period where we see a decline in infections, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 has not gone away,” Kennedy said. “We must remain vigilant and follow CDC instructions to mask and limit our contact. We must always remember to wash our hands well.
The UAMS Institute for Transitional Research provided part of the funding for this project. The institute provided support for clinical specimen collection, specimen processing, site coordination and communications, and overall implementation of this project, including the provision of an honest broker, the secure data storage and data management via REDCap survey.
The researchers obtained approval from the UAMS Institutional Review Board to obtain these samples and assess seroprevalence in the Arkansas population.
UAMS is the only health sciences university in the state, with colleges of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, health professions, and public health; a doctoral school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwestern Arkansas Regional Campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses the entire clinical enterprise of UAMS. UAMS is the only Level 1 adult trauma center in the state. US News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as Best Hospital for 2021-22; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationally for the third year; and named five high performing areas – colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement and stroke. UAMS has 3,047 students, 873 medical residents and fellows, and six resident dentists. It is the largest public employer in the state with more than 11,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide patient care at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit www.uams.edu Where uamshealth.com. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube Where instagram.