A Look at How COVID-19 and HIV are Affecting Black and LGBTQ Americans

Grady Health System’s Chief Executive Officer, John M. Haupert, released a statement on January 13, 2021, stating that Grady Memorial, the state’s largest hospital, is full. He stated that the hospitals are seeing an even higher number of COVID-19 cases than they did during the peak summer wave and that he fears they will have to begin making “tough choices on providing care.” (Read: they will have to begin choosing which lives they save.) While this pandemic has been hard on everyone, it has disproportionately affected specific communities, mirroring some of the same disparities demonstrated by a different virus: HIV.

COVID-19 has affected nearly every facet of everyone’s lives, but Black and LGBTQ populations are being disproportionately affected.

When COVID-19 strikes, those who are lucky remain asymptomatic, but others face fates much worse. The CDC defines “severe illness from COVID-19 … as hospitalization, admission to the ICU, intubation or mechanical ventilation, or death.” The CDC’s data (updated on January 13, 2021) reveals that while Black Americans only account for about 12.9% of the total population, they account for about 16.2% of total COVID-19-related deaths.

The CDC has similarly alarming statistics regarding HIV diagnoses. It reported, “In 2018, blacks/African Americans accounted for 13% of the US population, but 42% of the 37,832 new HIV diagnoses in the United States and dependent areas.” The CDC also reports that the largest group affected by new HIV diagnoses continues to be men that have sex with other men due to the manner in which the disease spreads. The disproportionate manner in which these illnesses affect members of the Black and LGBTQ communities could be linked to the economic adversities these populations face.

In March 2020, everyone and everything moved indoors and online. Zoom meetings and Skype calls characterized the beginning of the new decade, but some sectors of the economy couldn’t be completely digitized. One area that took a major hit by the onset of the pandemic was the service industry. Most bars were forced to shut their doors completely (at least for a while), and while some restaurants were able to adjust and pivot to a takeout-dominated business model, it left a large percentage of their employees out of work. Servers, hostesses, bartenders, and most other front-of-the-house workers found themselves without a paycheck in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Recent findings published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and PSB Research state that “Black people … comprise 20% of food service workers, janitors, cashiers and stockers and 15% of LGBTQ adults work in food service or restaurants.” They also found that “31% of Black LGBTQ respondents had their work hours reduced due to COVID-19, compared to 23% of Black respondents, 28% of LGBTQ respondents and 22% of the general sample population” and “18% of Black LGBTQ respondents became unemployed due to COVID-19, compared to 16% of Black respondents, 16% of LGBTQ people and 12% of the general sample population.”

Based on these numbers, it’s safe to say that Black LGBTQ Americans have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic’s economic repercussions, potentially leaving them unable to pay for food, bills, and medical services.

A systemic review of 16 studies published in the BMC International Health and Human Rights journal found that “the relationship between users and health services is considered essential to strengthen the quality of care. However, the [LGBTQ] population suffers from prejudice and discrimination in access and use of these services.” Another meta-analysis published in The Lancet medical science journal studying the “disparities and risks of HIV infection in black and other men who have sex with men” found that Black men who have sex with men were more likely than any other group to be without health insurance and to be less likely to have successful long-term treatment.

The main takeaway from this data is that racism and homophobia are intrinsic in the everyday systems our society is built on. Prejudice affects the financial and physical well-being of Black and LGBTQ Americans, and the numbers surrounding both HIV and the COVID-19 pandemic prove it. Without drastically altering the ways in which American medical and governmental institutions operate, these groups will continue to suffer disproportionately from illnesses in a manner that is wholly preventable.