S.C. Institute of Medicine and Public Health Releases COVID-19 Health Disparities Report

Friday, December 18th, 2020

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected. Now, the South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health (IMPH), a nonpartisan nonprofit working to collectively inform policy to improve health and health care, has released a report exploring the extent of these disparities in South Carolina and the reasons behind them. The report also proposes bold steps to address these inequitable health outcomes. View the report here and additional COVID-19 resources at imph.org/covid-19/.

As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to rise, those with the ability to work remotely, order groceries and household supplies online and supervise virtual learning for their children at home are well-positioned to avoid infection. But many people in South Carolina find themselves in very different circumstances: working at jobs that require direct contact with the public; living without access to the internet, computers or cell phone service; or in multi-generational households without space to distance. These South Carolinians are more likely to be people of color.

IMPH’s COVID-19 report on health disparities in South Carolina examines the intersection of racism, race and ethnicity and social determinants of health and health outcomes and explores how these factors have made COVID-19 deadlier for Black and Latino people.

“In South Carolina, the COVID-19 pandemic has interacted with existing disparities in social and environmental determinants of health to create a syndemic — in which suffering increases to greater than the sum of its parts,” says Maya Pack, executive director at IMPH. “Existing adverse health outcomes worsened by the pandemic make clear that now is the time to reinforce our commitment to equity and evidence-based policies that will strengthen the social safety net in South Carolina.”

“At the Sisters of Charity Foundation of SC, we know our mission is best fulfilled when we embrace diversity, advance equity and promote inclusion with measurable action steps,” says Tom Keith, SCFSC president. “Through thoughtful and extensive study, experts have identified a number of action items that can be taken to reduce the health inequalities disadvantaged children and adults face, which have been amplified due to the pandemic.”

 Recommendations for Reducing Health Inequities

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to existing racial and ethnic health disparities in South Carolina and across the country, providing an opportunity for states to take action. Experts have set forth many policy proposals to reduce health inequities highlighted by the virus. These include:

  • Provide hazard pay, paid sick leave, childcare and personal protective equipment to essential workers as long as their employment puts them at risk of COVID-19 infection.

  • Target resources for testing, tracing and treatment of vulnerable populations based on individual community needs.

  • Expand broadband to increase access to virtual education for students and health care via telehealth.

  • Shift the emergency response regarding pandemic-generated food insecurity to a model of sustainability that uses data to identify areas of greatest need.

  • Collect more data on the short and long-term impact of COVID-19, disaggregated by race.

  • Provide culturally responsive care to people of color, including translation services.

  • Identify and address implicit bias within the health care delivery system. 

For a full list of expert-derived recommendations for reversing course and creating a stronger safety net for South Carolinians, read the full report here. For more information compiled by IMPH regarding COVID-19 response, visit imph.org/covid-19/.