Image of Helena Temkin-Greener, Ph.D., M.S.

One state’s careful count of COVID-19 deaths and cases has revealed a strong link between the proportion of minority and ethnic residents in nursing homes and increased facility incidence and mortality rates during the pandemic.

Investigators chose to study Connecticut because it is one of the few states that began reporting weekly counts of COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes in early April 2020. The researchers compared facilities based on varying proportions of racial and ethnic minority residents during a 10-week period from April to late June.

Nursing homes that had predominantly minority and ethnic populations had 50% more COVID infections than those with mainly white populations, they found. What’s more, those disparities increased across facilities in the earliest period of the pandemic, reported the study’s senior author Helena Temkin-Greener, Ph.D., MS, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

The average number of cases ranged from six per facility for the group with a low-proportion of minority and ethnic residents to 12 per facility for the high-proportion group in week one of data collection. But by week 10, that range was between 27 and 58 cases per facility.

“Compelling evidence indicates that racial and ethnic minority persons are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death, compared to non-Hispanic white individuals,” Temkin-Greener and colleagues noted. “Whether such disparities might be improved (or exacerbated) over time as the COVID-19 crisis continues remains unknown,” they wrote.

“The disparities reported in these early studies are rather disturbing and have to be addressed at the system level,” the authors concluded.

Full findings were published online Wednesday in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.