Role of structural, societal factors in pandemic’s spread

Harvard Medical School

This article is part of Harvard Medical School’s continuing coverage of medicine, biomedical research, medical education, and policy related to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the disease COVID-19.

  • By TIMOTHY GOWER | MGH News and Public Affairs

A recent analysis offers a new perspective on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people of color, low-income populations, and other structurally disadvantaged groups.

The research, conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, was published June 8 in a research letter to the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The findings emphasize the urgency of addressing inequities that have been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers said.

“At Mass General, we are deeply interested in uncovering disparities and then fixing them,” said cardiologist Jason Wasfy, HMS assistant professor of medicine and director for outcomes research at the Mass General Heart Center.

In pursuit of that mission, Wasfy, lead author of the research letter, and several colleagues decided to analyze the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of patients tested for COVID-19 at 14 sites within the Mass General Brigham system from the earliest days of the pandemic until mid-December 2020. The sites included hospitals, community health centers, and urgent care clinics. Combining the results of inpatient and outpatient testing for COVID-19 distinguished this analysis from most earlier inquiries, which had primarily focused on inpatient testing.

“That made our sample more representative,” said Wasfy, who is also a medical director of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization (MGPO). “It’s a more valid way of looking at the total effect of COVID-19 on all patients.”

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