STANFORD (CBS SF) — Stanford researchers published a study Tuesday that found that more than half of all in-hospital deaths from COVID-19 over the first six months of the pandemic were Black and Hispanic patients.

With help from Duke University researchers, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine looked at 7,868 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus at 88 hospitals across the country between Jan. 17 and July 22. Data showed that 53% of those deaths were Black and Hispanic.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a spotlight on racial and ethnic disparities in health care that have been happening for years,” said Dr. Fatima Rodriguez, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford and lead author of the study. “Our study shows an over-representation of Black and Hispanic patients in terms of morbidity and mortality that needs to be addressed upstream before hospitalization.”

The racial breakdown of the study was white patients accounted for 35.2% of the sample, Hispanic patients for 33%, Black patients for 25.5% and Asian patients for 6.3%.

The study also showed a disparity in ages, as the Black and Hispanic patients were significantly younger than others. The average age of the Black and Hispanic patients who died was 57 and 60, respectively; it was 69 for white patients and 64 for Asian patients. Black and Hispanic patients in the study also had more health issues, and the highest rates of mechanical ventilation and renal replacement therapy.

Rodriguez said she was surprised to learn that heart problems were infrequent among the patients.

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“Asian patients showed higher rates of cardiorespiratory disease severity when they arrived at the hospital,” Rodrgiuez said. “That was an interesting finding. They tended to be older and to come to the hospital later in the disease progression.”

Rodriguez, an expert in health disparities in cardiovascular medicine, also noted that the quality of hospital impacted the patients’ survival rates.

“Interestingly, more of the variations in mortality were explained by the site of the care than by race or ethnicity,” Rodriguez said. “We need to understand more about differences between hospitals. Is it different treatment protocols that are rapidly evolving during the pandemic? Or perhaps minority-serving hospitals have different resources? This is an active area of research within the registry used for this study as we enroll more sites across the country.”

While there were limitations to the study, including an overrepresentation of urban and large academic teaching hospitals in the data sample Rodriguez says the “findings remain startling.”

“My work focuses on preventing chronic disease before patients are hospitalized,” Rodriguez said. “We need to invest in communities to increase opportunity for healthy lifestyles and good health care. Structural racism, we know, is a major roadblock for preventing good health.”

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To read the study, visit the American Heart Association Journal’s website.