Since the end of the first Omicron wave last March, white people in Massachusetts are more likely to die from COVID than Black or Hispanic people.
By Kay Lazar Globe Staff,Updated February 20, 2023, 6:16 p.m.
A year ago, young families of color in Massachusetts were suffering a heavy toll from COVID-19, with Black and Latino people in the prime of their lives dying at rates up to three times higher than white people.
Now, the pendulum appears to be swinging the other way.
Since the end of the first Omicron wave last March, death disparities have reversed, with white people in Massachusetts more likely to die from COVID than Black or Hispanic people, although there is some variation across age groups, according to a new analysis conducted for the Globe by researchers at Boston University’s School of Public Health.
“Clearly, something shifted after the initial Omicron wave,” said Dr. Jonathan Levy, who chairs the department of environmental health at BU’s School of Public Health.
Levy and Jacob Bor, an associate professor in global health and epidemiology at BU, analyzed state data — more than 60,000 death certificates obtained by the Globe through a public records request. Their analysis found that 55 percent of the roughly 4,100 COVID deaths in Massachusetts during 2022 occurred in just the first two months, amid the first Omicron surge.
During that stretch, Hispanic people were one-and-a-half times more likely to die than white people, while Black people were 1.3 times more likely to die.
But since last March, that ratio has dramatically turned. Now, the COVID death rate among Hispanic people is about three-quarters that of white people, and the rate among Black people is roughly two-thirds.
Yet the death rate ratio for Asian people throughout the pandemic has remained consistently lower than for all other racial and ethnic groups, the researchers found.
“Are we seeing lower exposure risks [among Asian people] based on occupation, or mask-wearing patterns, or something else, perhaps different vaccination rates?” Levy said. ”There are clues, if we can figure them out, that may tell us what are the vulnerability factors and what protections do we need.”