Study finds disparities among Holyoke residents with coronavirus antibodies

  • An infographic from a COVID-19 antibody test study that Holyoke’s Board of Health and the Harvard-Mass General Hospital Global Health completed. The study revealed, among other findings, that city residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino/Latina were nearly twice as likely as white residents to have contracted the coronavirus. SCREENSHOT/HOLYOKE BOARD OF HEALTH

  • An infographic from a COVID-19 antibody test study that Holyoke’s Board of Health and the Harvard-Mass General Hospital Global Health completed. The study revealed, among other findings, that city residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino/Latina were nearly twice as likely as white residents to have contracted the coronavirus. SCREENSHOT/HOLYOKE BOARD OF HEALTH

Staff Writer
Published: 6/25/2021 7:43:56 PM

HOLYOKE — The city has completed a COVID-19 antibody test study that has revealed, among other findings, that city residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino/Latina were nearly twice as likely as white residents to have contracted the coronavirus.

Holyoke’s Board of Heath partnered with the Harvard-Mass General Hospital Global Health Initiative to complete the seroprevalence study, which estimates how many city residents were infected prior to Jan. 31, 2021. The researchers randomly selected 2,000 households and invited them to participate in the study. Ultimately, 472 people from 280 households took part, filling out household and individual surveys and returning a blood sample that could be tested for antibodies against the virus.

“This work has important public health implications because it allows us to understand how many individuals have been infected, how much of the population is still at risk of becoming infected, and highlights factors that can be targeted by public health interventions to lower the risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2,” the study states.

Among the key findings of the study were that residents identifying as either Hispanic or Latino/Latina had a seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies that was almost twice as high as participants identifying as white. Of the Hispanic residents taking part in the survey, 16.8% had antibodies compared with 8.9% of white residents.

“This finding is consistent with well-documented nationwide racial and ethnic COVID-19 disparities,” the study found.

Ryan Paxton, a sanitarian with the city’s Board of Health, said that the researchers expected those results because of trends they were seeing in the community as well as the health-care inequities faced by the city’s Hispanic population. He said that documenting those health disparities will allow the city to begin addressing some of the causes.

Louise Ivers, the executive director of the MGH Center for Global Health, said that more study is needed to explain exactly why the city’s Hispanic residents were more at risk and whether they were represented more among the category of “essential workers,” for example.

The researchers also found that by the end of January 2021, the prevalence of COVID-19 infection throughout the city was 13.9% — suggesting that the number of cases in Holyoke was approximately double the 2,975 cases reported as of Dec. 31, 2020.

“A seroprevalence of 13.9% suggests that by the end of January 2021, the city as a whole was far from the level of prior infections that would be protective against further surges of COVID-19, what is traditionally referred to as ‘herd immunity,’” the study said. “This reinforces the importance of rapidly and equitably deploying existing vaccines to prevent further infections, and to make sure that our vaccination efforts reach the communities that are at highest risk.”

In Hampden County, where Holyoke is located, only 52% of residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — the county with the lowest percentage in the entire state.

Paxton said that public health workers in the city have been focusing their efforts on vaccinating populations with low immunization rates, such as the city’s Hispanic population. He said that together with the state, the city has made efforts like setting up a vaccine clinic at the Holyoke Mall, bringing a vaccination bus to Holyoke and setting up mobile sites in the city.

Other populations in Holyoke that the study found had higher seroprevalence rates — suggesting they were more frequently infected — included people younger than 19 and those between the ages of 20 to 44.

That younger cohort was 2.2 times more likely to have antibodies compared to those between the ages of 45 and 85, whereas those between 20 and 44 were 1.5 times more likely than those 45 to 85 to have been infected.

“We did note a high seroprevalence among individuals over 85 years of age,” the report said. “Though this is consistent with historical findings highlighting that this is a high-risk group, the number of participants in this group was small, making it difficult to draw strong conclusions.”

The study showed that seroprevalence was highest among those who had reported a household contact with the virus as compared to other contacts. That suggests that the household was a high-risk setting, the report said.

Paxton and Ivers both praised the study as a beneficial collaboration between local public health practitioners and researchers in academia. Paxton said that the word of going door to door doing outreach to possible participants strengthened the relationship between the Board of Health and the community. Those improved ties will hopefully lead to better public health outcomes in the future, he added.

The two also expressed deep gratitude for the city residents who participated in the study. Ivers noted that participants had a stranger knock on their door, during the middle of the pandemic while they were trying to keep their families safe, and ask them to give blood samples and answer survey questions.

“That kind of community participation in the science really helps advance the science,” Ivers said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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