NY Health Dept. says ‘social inequities’ put some groups at increased risk for severe COVID infection

Many states in the northeastern U.S. are currently reporting dramatic surges in COVID-19 cases, and that includes New York, where newly approved antiviral pills and other treatments for coronavirus disease are said to be in short supply.

In response to the surge in cases, the New York Health Department has established guidelines to assist health care providers in prioritizing treatments for COVID-positive patients — and one of the risk factors that would move an individual up on that list, the Tampa Free Press reports, has to do with what officials are attributing to systemic racism and “social inequities.”

“Put on a wait list”

“In times of limited supplies of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and oral antivirals (OAVs), providers should prioritize patients eligible for treatment based on their level of risk for progressing to severe COVID-19,” the guidance released by the New York Department of Health states.

The guidance includes a section explaining “which groups should receive therapy without exception and which groups may need to be put on a wait list if supplies of a given therapeutic are limited.”

The risk groups are broken down largely by age and vaccination status. Of highest risk, the guidance states, are individuals of “any age with moderate to severe immunocompromise” and those ages 65 and up who are “not fully vaccinated” and who have “at least one risk factor for severe illness.”

“Considered a risk factor”

Those risk factors are defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an assessment of risk for “People with Certain Medical Conditions.”

Per the CDC, the factors, including age and medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, and certain heart conditions, could result in a greater risk of hospitalization or death or the need for intensive care as a result of a COVID-19 infection.

New York state’s guidance adds: “Non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.”

CDC echoes verbiage

Similar verbiage can also be found in the CDC’s own memos. According to the federal agency, “[l]ong-standing systemic health and social inequities have put various groups of people at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19, including many people from certain racial and ethnic minority groups and people with disabilities.”

Further, the CDC said:

Studies have shown people from racial and ethnic minority groups are also dying from COVID-19 at younger ages. People in minority groups are often younger when they develop chronic medical conditions and may be more likely to have more than one condition.

It all comes as reports continue to detail surges in cases of the coronavirus, particularly the omicron variant, which some research has suggested is less deadly but more contagious than previous variants.

It’s shocking to think health care officials have been told they need to consider a patient’s race when divvying out treatments for COVID-19 — but it’s even more shocking that they may be forced to put some patients on wait lists even as we begin the third year of the pandemic.

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