New research from the University of Minnesota has found that excess mortality in Minnesota has been worse than in previous years. Defined as deaths above what was expected, excess mortality has increased in 2020 largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, research revealed a racial disparity in terms of excess mortality.

At first glance, the state’s pandemic statistics seem to be relatively equal to others in comparison. However, hidden within the data, while confirmed COVID-19 mortality accounts for the majority of excess mortality among white Minnesotans, COVID-19 counts for less of the excess mortality among other racial groups, indicating that the pandemic’s toll on Minnesotans of color has been understated in statistics. 

Department of Sociology assistant professor Elizabeth Wrigley-Field notes that in order to truly understand the toll that the pandemic has taken, deaths must be looked at more holistically. She says, “Focusing only on official, confirmed COVID-19 deaths understates what has happened to Minnesota’s communities of color in particular.” 

After the statistics are age-adjusted, the disparity becomes more clear. Excess mortality rates were actually higher for Black, Latino, and Native Minnesotans, with Black Minnesotans having mortality rates five times higher than that of the white population. To address this, Wrigley-Field says “Each racial group has a distinctive pattern of risk, so lifesaving efforts should be based on understanding excess mortality patterns in detail,” she adds “They should not be based solely on confirmed COVID-19 rates.”

Although research is ongoing to determine what else contributed to the excess mortality of other racial groups, some factors that Wrigley-Field identified as possibilities were undiagnosed COVID cases, disrupted medical care or the delaying of other emergencies due to the pandemic, workplace risk, and exposure in multifamily homes. She added that they’re also studying how racial segregation intersects with a neighborhood’s risk of COVID.

On further research being conducted, Wrigley-Field says, “Our team is currently conducting studies on COVID mortality among Minnesota’s immigrant populations; the interaction between racial and spatial/neighborhood-level risk during the pandemic; and the causes of death underpinning excess mortality, and racial disparities in excess mortality, in Minnesota.”

So far, they are the only research team outside of the media studying COVID mortality patterns across the state. The published research brief is available online at twin-cities.umn.edu.