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Health Equity and Social Determinants of Health

Thursday, July 16, 2020

COVID-19 has illuminated significant health inequities in the United States in recent months. According to an NPR data analysis using the COVID Racial Tracker, “Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population.”  In addition, “In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it's more than four times greater.” In Mendocino County, the Latinx population accounts for 60% of COVID-19 confirmed cases ( as of July 16, 2020), but only account for about 25% of the county-wide population.

A recent article published by Health IT Analytics titled, Using Social Determinants to Promote Health Equity During a Crisis (May 22, 2020) states that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing health equity challenges, leading organizations to begin leveraging social determinants of health and existing data to better understand these poor outcomes.

Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which we are born, live, learn, work, play, and worship that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. These economic, social, cultural, and environmental factors affect a wide range of health risk and outcomes and impact the health status of individuals and groups.

In Mendocino County, as in most communities, there are large health disparities among populations and geographic areas. These disparities generally stem from root causes and inequities such as the toxic effects of poverty, lack of safety, and inadequate housing that can also lead to poor school performance, high Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and other concerns. Such root causes cannot be addressed by individuals or even by individual systems or organizations. Health inequities can only be addressed by moving “upstream” from a focus on individual responsibility to a focus on our collective responsibility to create the conditions that enable all residents to make healthy choices and have better health outcomes.

The four main populations that have been identified in Mendocino County as disproportionally impacted are low income families, those living in geographically remote areas, Native American and Latinx communities. 

In communities of color, health inequities exist as a result of disenfranchisement, institutionalized racism and, for Native American Tribal nations; the significant impact of historical genocide and its legacies. Any needs identified or solutions created could be done within these communities. 

For all of these disenfranchised populations, the same root causes are behind the inequities for exposure and health outcomes for COVID-19 — structural racism, segregation, and historic and ongoing community disinvestment — are also the drivers behind inequities in other social outcomes, like education, employment, and policing.

The health disparities that disproportionately effect specific communities in Mendocino County will continue to be a primary focus of the efforts for Healthy Mendocino. For more information, please visit or email Healthy Mendocino is a central hub for cross-sector collaboration to improve community health. The Healthy Mendocino website provides localized health data, resources, best practices, and recommendations for strategic action.

Program(s) Involved: Healthy Mendocino