A recent study has found that Bay Area residents of Asian descent were more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than any other racial or ethnic group in the area in 2020.
The research, co-authored by a University of California, San Francisco, researcher and published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities on Tuesday, noted that the heightened risk among Asians cannot be fully explained by socioeconomic factors or pre-existing medical conditions.
While the study also included Black, Hispanic and white residents, Asians were the only racial group whose age, income, health insurance status and medical comorbidities did not fully account for their higher risk of hospitalization.
According to the findings, Hispanic and Black residents’ higher risk for testing positive and being hospitalized were due to socioeconomic status and health issues such as smoking and diabetes.
Researchers say those factors were not responsible for Asians’ higher risk for hospitalization. Their findings suggest other factors, but the study could not establish what those are.
“What is interesting is that even when we count for all socioeconomic factors and health profile, just being Asian alone still conferred excess risk for having severe COVID,” the study’s co-author, UCSF ophthalmologist Dr. David Hwang, was quoted as saying. “We don’t fully understand the reasons for that.”
According to Hwang, even the higher rates of diabetes among Asians do not tell the whole story as there are other potential explanations that would require further research.
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Hwang noted the rise of anti-Asian violence during the onset of the pandemic in 2020, which might have prevented many Asian residents from seeking medical care for COVID-19 until it worsened to a point that hospitalization was required.
He also cited language barriers as a possible explanation, as many Asians in the Bay Area may have found it difficult to find a healthcare provider that speaks their own language or dialect. An earlier study, also co-authored by Hwang and Wendy K. Tam Cho, analyzed health records for 130,000 UCSF patients from the nine Bay Area counties.
The study found that Asian COVID-19 patients in the Bay Area had the highest hospitalization rates of any group at 11.5%. The hospitalization rate was 9.3% for Black patients, 6.9% for Hispanic patients and 5.4% for white patients.
Asians were also found to have a higher COVID-19 mortality rate than any other group in 2020, while Black and Hispanic residents were more likely to test positive for the virus.
The new study sought an explanation for the discrepancy as other studies have posited that Asians had lower rates of infection, hospitalization and death compared to other groups throughout much of the pandemic.
Hwang also highlighted the socioeconomic diversity among Asians in the Bay Area.
“Our patient population being in a multi-ethnic community allows us to draw conclusions about groups that in other communities are not considered large enough to draw statistically relevant inferences,” Hwang said. “The fact that we have pluralistic society with a larger set of Asians is very different.”
According to Hwang, their study emphasizes the necessity of understanding the differences between various Asian nationalities so the health care system can customize programs based on their specific needs.
“Understanding those differences and having more attention to studying the health needs in Asians is something that’s an opportunity for our health care system and our researchers to put more of a spotlight on,” he added.