Racial Disparities in the Perceived Risk of COVID-19 and in Getting Needed Medical Care

J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. 2023 Feb;10(1):4-13. doi: 10.1007/s40615-021-01191-5. Epub 2021 Nov 29.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected minorities in population rates of infection, hospitalization, and mortality. However, little is known about the broader racial disparities in fears and perceptions about the pandemic and getting treated.

Objective: To examine disparities in perceived risks of COVID-19 and getting medical care.

Methods: Using the nationally representative Stanford University School of Medicine Coronavirus Attitudes and Behaviors Survey fielded in May of 2020, we examine racial and ethnic disparities in eight measures on the perceived risks of COVID-19. We use regression analysis to risk adjust perceptions controlling for 10 socioeconomic, demographic, and health variables.

Results: Black respondents were 15 percentage points more likely than White respondents to believe the pandemic would not end by Summer 2020 (92% vs 77%, p < .01), and were 19 percentage points more likely than any other race to feel a need to protect their family from COVID-19 (81% vs 62%, p < .01). Latinx respondents were 10 percentage points more fearful than White respondents of catching COVID-19 in public places (55% vs 45%, p < 0.01). Black respondents were 20 percentage points more likely than White respondents to think they would need medical care if infected (71% vs 51%, p < .01), and 18 percentage points more likely to think they would need to be hospitalized (59% vs 41%, p < .01). The proportion of Black respondents believing that the hospital would not have enough capacity to treat them if infected with COVID-19 was 12 percentage points higher than White respondents (41% vs 29%, p < 0.05).

Conclusion: Disparities in the COVID-19-related perceived risks and mistrust in healthcare across racial and ethnic groups existed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter into a post-COVID New Normal, new policies must ensure that the causes of this widespread fear and distrust in the healthcare system are understood and reversed.

Keywords: Attitudes; COVID-19 infection; Perceptions; Racial disparities.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology