TitleChanges in the associations of race and rurality with SARS-CoV-2 infection, mortality, and case fatality in the United States from February 2020 to March 2021: A population-based cohort study.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsIoannou, GN, Ferguson, JM, O'Hare, AM, Bohnert, ASB, Backus, LI, Boyko, EJ, Osborne, TF, Maciejewski, ML, C Bowling, B, Hynes, DM, Iwashyna, TJ, Saysana, M, Green, P, Berry, K
JournalPLoS Med
Date Published10/2021

BACKGROUND: We examined whether key sociodemographic and clinical risk factors for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection and mortality changed over time in a population-based cohort study.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: In a cohort of 9,127,673 persons enrolled in the United States Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system, we evaluated the independent associations of sociodemographic and clinical characteristics with SARS-CoV-2 infection (n = 216,046), SARS-CoV-2-related mortality (n = 10,230), and case fatality at monthly intervals between February 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. VA enrollees had a mean age of 61 years (SD 17.7) and were predominantly male (90.9%) and White (64.5%), with 14.6% of Black race and 6.3% of Hispanic ethnicity. Black (versus White) race was strongly associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 5.10, [95% CI 4.65 to 5.59], p-value <0.001), mortality (AOR 3.85 [95% CI 3.30 to 4.50], p-value < 0.001), and case fatality (AOR 2.56, 95% CI 2.23 to 2.93, p-value < 0.001) in February to March 2020, but these associations were attenuated and not statistically significant by November 2020 for infection (AOR 1.03 [95% CI 1.00 to 1.07] p-value = 0.05) and mortality (AOR 1.08 [95% CI 0.96 to 1.20], p-value = 0.21) and were reversed for case fatality (AOR 0.86, 95% CI 0.78 to 0.95, p-value = 0.005). American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN versus White) race was associated with higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in April and May 2020; this association declined over time and reversed by March 2021 (AOR 0.66 [95% CI 0.51 to 0.85] p-value = 0.004). Hispanic (versus non-Hispanic) ethnicity was associated with higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and mortality during almost every time period, with no evidence of attenuation over time. Urban (versus rural) residence was associated with higher risk of infection (AOR 2.02, [95% CI 1.83 to 2.22], p-value < 0.001), mortality (AOR 2.48 [95% CI 2.08 to 2.96], p-value < 0.001), and case fatality (AOR 2.24, 95% CI 1.93 to 2.60, p-value < 0.001) in February to April 2020, but these associations attenuated over time and reversed by September 2020 (AOR 0.85, 95% CI 0.81 to 0.89, p-value < 0.001 for infection, AOR 0.72, 95% CI 0.62 to 0.83, p-value < 0.001 for mortality and AOR 0.81, 95% CI 0.71 to 0.93, p-value = 0.006 for case fatality). Throughout the observation period, high comorbidity burden, younger age, and obesity were consistently associated with infection, while high comorbidity burden, older age, and male sex were consistently associated with mortality. Limitations of the study include that changes over time in the associations of some risk factors may be affected by changes in the likelihood of testing for SARS-CoV-2 according to those risk factors; also, study results apply directly to VA enrollees who are predominantly male and have comprehensive healthcare and need to be confirmed in other populations.

CONCLUSIONS: In this study, we found that strongly positive associations of Black and AI/AN (versus White) race and urban (versus rural) residence with SARS-CoV-2 infection, mortality, and case fatality observed early in the pandemic were ameliorated or reversed by March 2021.

Alternate JournalPLoS Med
PubMed ID34673772