COVID-19 deaths and disease disproportionately affecting certain population groups in the area

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MILWAUKEE COUNTY (CBS 58) -- State health officials say COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased 22-percent this week compared to last week. Deaths also continue to climb, with 70 reported Wednesday and Thursday combined, but COVID-19 deaths and disease is unequally affecting certain population groups.

Milwaukee County health officials say this week they’ve seen a sharp increase in hospitalizations in the 80 and older age group, that age group is also the hardest hit for COVID-19 deaths.

“We see a rate of about three to four times higher in the 80-year-old group than we see in other age groups,” said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department.

Doctors say COVID-19 deaths affecting the older population isn’t unique to Milwaukee County. They say the older you are, the higher your chance of dying from COVID-19 disease.

“Those who are in their 30s are four times at greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than their slightly younger counterparts in their 20s, and that risk just goes up the older you get by decade,” said Dr. Joyce Sanchez, infectious disease specialist, Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin.

County health experts say higher levels of disease are seen in low-income populations and medically fragile adults. They say the rate of disease for Hispanic and Latinx community is more than 2.2 times higher than any other group.

“The next leading subgroups for COVID-19 disease are the African American and Asian populations,” added Rausch.

Deaths also disproportionately affect people of color.

“In Wisconsin, I think Black deaths are about 2.5 times those of non-Hispanic whites when it comes to COVID-19,” said Tiffany Green, population health sciences assistant professor at UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

To increase awareness, Wisconsin DHS launched a new racial and ethnic disparities dashboard on Wednesday.

“It was just a really important way for us to elevate these issues,” said Andrea Palm, secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).

Green says Black and brown workers are more likely to be essential laborers, they are often exposed and are not provided sick benefits and health insurance. She says making sure people have access to sick leave and health care is essential to eliminating COVID-19 health disparities.

“We want to make sure that at risk populations have sick leave so that they can stay home in case they feel like they’re infectious,” said Green.

While many factors play into COVID-19 deaths and disease, Dr. Sanchez says the number one risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease affecting the most number of Americans is obesity. She says this year, more than 40-percent of Americans were reported to be obese.

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