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Health inequities anywhere are a threat to health everywhere.

Avoidable and unfair conditions can lead to poor health outcomes. 

Everyone has a fair chance to be healthy, right? Well, not always. 

Adverse social and economic conditions—such as poverty, discrimination, violence, lack of affordable housing and pollution—can create health inequities. These conditions limit our access to the opportunities and resources we all need to stay healthy. 

We described health inequity in Pierce County in our 2015 Health Equity Assessment. For example, American Indian/Alaska Native infants have higher mortality rates compared to white infants. Similarly, life expectancy is often substantially different between neighborhoods that are a short distance from one another. 

Health inequities reduce protection against the COVID-19 pandemic.

People experiencing inequities are potentially most at risk to negative effects:  

  • Older adults. 
  • People with underlying health conditions. 
  • People with compromised immune systems.  
  • People and communities like:  
    • Communities of color.  
    • People experiencing poverty. 
    • People living homeless. 
    • People with disabilities.  
    • Front-line workers (health care, grocery, delivery, farmworkers etc.). 
    • Immigrants and refugees.   

The groups who are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection often have less power to protect their own health. They are more likely to have underlying health conditions and have less access to health care. Many do not have jobs that support physical distancing or flexible schedules and access to childcare when schools are cancelled. They might not have enough savings to meet expenses if a family member is laid off due to the pandemic. 

Most Pierce County residents who have died from COVID-19 have been elderly, and most had underlying health conditions. More than half of COVID-19 deaths were residents of nursing homes or other group care facilities.  

Persons of color also have more risk for COVID-19 infection. For example, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander residents of Pierce County have more than four times the rate of COVID-19 infection compared to white residents. Hispanic and black residents both have twice the rate compared to white residents.

When some parts of our community are less protected against COVID-19, it increases infection risk for all of us. To protect the whole community, we must eliminate health inequities.

This pandemic reminds us that we need to stay connected and work together. 

When our backs are against a wall, we find untapped strength. We recover wisdom we’ve forgotten. We lean into our beliefs and our faith for guidance and support.  

We focus on the things that matter most to us, such as the relationships we have with each other. We remember we are not alone and grow more resilient with each act of love, kindness and service to one another. Committing to achieving health equity is an act of love for each other.   

Health inequities threaten your health and the health of the entire community. We need to confront them head on so that the community can begin to heal.  

Healing relationships across the community and with the land will bring us closer together. This unity is  necessary to protect ourselves from not just COVID-19, but other present and future threats. 

We’re using the data we have to make informed decisions. 

Remember the higher rates of COVID-19 among communities of color? We are working hard to collect and use better data so we can understand who is at higher risk and how to help them. For example, we have found that—on average—Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander residents with COVID-19 are in close contact with more people compared to white residents with COVID-19. We don’t know for sure, but it is likely that more contacts lead to more exposures and higher rates of illness.

The first step is to share the data and talk openly about these inequities. In the coming weeks, Health Department staff will meet with community partners to share the data, raise questions, and discuss possible solutions. We will collect additional data and information from affected communities to better understand the problem and elevate their solutions.  

We updated the race and ethnicity data on our case count page today.

The more testing the better. 

Knowing who is or isn’t sick is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is why the Health Department staff continue to work with those serving people living homeless. We test clients and find safe places to isolate these clients if they are positive for COVID-19.

We have also made testing sites more accessible to people with disabilities. With the help of Pierce County’s Functional Assessment Service Team (FAST), during the Tacoma Dome community testing event, we met the needs of those with hearing, sight and mobility issues and used telephone translation services as needed.  

In addition, we send teams of nurses and other staff to care facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks to test residents and staff. 

We must act now. 

Everyone should have a fair opportunity to live a long and healthy life. Risk for COVID-19 should not depend on what we look like, how much money we make, or where we live. We all have an important role to play if we want to reduce health inequities.  

What can you do? 

  • If you are experiencing health inequities, build collective strength by organizing with friends and neighbors to protect and improve your health. 
  • If you’re a local leader, incorporate health equity into your decision-making.  
  • If health inequities concern you, donate or volunteer.  
  • Email us at to learn more.