Toxic and chronic stress, born out by decades of persistent racism, have also taken a toll on the health and well-being of Black, Hispanic and Latino people, Rachel Hardeman, a reproductive health equity researcher at the University of Minnesota who was not involved in the study, said in an email.
As health workers and researchers try to ramp up testing efforts nationwide, pregnant women could play a larger role in helping experts track the spread of disease, Dr. Robinson said.
“We also need more targeted research on pregnant populations” in general, she added.
Recent analyses have found that pregnant women infected by the coronavirus may be at higher risk of worse outcomes, Dr. Hardeman said. Pregnant women are also thought to be more vulnerable to certain infections because carrying a fetus tamps down the immune system.
The study was not designed to assess whether pregnant women are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus than other groups. But if evidence of that emerges, it would be “concerning,” given the other known racial disparities among pregnant women, said Dr. Ibukun Akinboyo, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Duke University. For instance, Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die during or soon after childbirth.
Pregnant women — who tend to be young and healthy members of the work force — do not represent the population as a whole, Dr. Robinson added. “We still need to have samples like this from kids and older people, and unpartnered people.”
Still, these patterns “reflect the structural inequities in the United States,” and underscore the need to address the factors that underlie them, Dr. Akinboyo said. That is powerful for those trying to curb disease transmission, but it can also help identify and protect those in need.
“Highlighting the groups that are more likely to get infected,” she said, “means we can get resources to the right groups.”