Social determinants that typically increase the risk of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use in communities of color — factors like language barriers and less access to health education and services — are also major contributors to the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, because COVID-19 has caused so many people to delay needed health care, a spike in chronic medical conditions is expected to occur in the coming years, according to speakers at a Sunday Annual Meeting session on “COVID-19: The Impact of Commercial Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Sales on the Spread of COVID-19 in Communities of Color.” Again, communities of color will likely be impacted the most.

“Cuts in health care personnel in all communities will aggravate this problem,” said Robert Fullilove, associate dean for community and minority affairs at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “The impact on non-COVID mortality nationwide may endure for years as overall access to health care is reduced.”

India Ornelas, associate professor of health services at the University of Washington, presented findings of a summer phone survey of 145 Latina immigrant women living in the Seattle area. She found that three-quarters of them had lost at least some income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also had no health insurance. Nearly 90% worried they would lose employment entirely, become infected or both.

Latinos are especially vulnerable to the virus because many are front-line workers, live in multigenerational households, and may be more prone to receiving misinformation about the disease due to language barriers and lack of health care access, Ornelas told session attendees.

Some of the same social factors that increase alcohol use in Latino communities also contribute to COVID-19 infectious spread, she noted. One way to help combat both would be to have robust health care outreach programs in Latino communities that educate about alcohol use and COVID-19 mitigation practices.

Overall, Blacks and Latinos in the U.S. account for nearly three times more COVID-19 cases than whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 31% of Black Americans personally know someone who has died from COVID-19, while 17% of Hispanics and 9% of whites personally know someone, according to a poll in June from the Washington Post. Blacks and Latinos are more likely than their white peers to be food insecure and face trouble paying rent during the pandemic.