Racial and Geographic Disparities in New York’s Burden of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children

July 29, 2020 | New York

When the novel coronavirus began to wreak havoc across our nation – and our State – earlier this year, the belief that children and youth were being spared from COVID-19 infection offered at least some comfort to parents and caregivers.  Within the last several months, the emergence of increasing reports of COVID-linked multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in at least 37 states has challenged this notion.  A potentially fatal pediatric inflammatory disease, MIS-C can occur in children and youth of all ages and shares certain symptoms with Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome, including body inflammation, rash, persistent high fever, upset stomach and cardiac dysfunction.  Especially disconcerting is the fact that New York has borne approximately 70 percent of the national burden of MIS-C cases, reporting 240 MIS-C cases statewide and two deaths to date.

Perhaps unsurprising given the disparate impact of COVID-19 on our State’s racial and ethnic minorities, MIS-C is disproportionately affecting New York’s Black and Hispanic children and youth.  One in three young New Yorkers with MIS-C is of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity.  Despite comprising about 19 percent of New Yorkers under the age of 21, Black and African American children and youth account for nearly a third of our State’s MIS-C cases.  White children and youth make up two-thirds of New Yorkers under 21, yet account for only 21 percent of the State’s MIS-C cases.  In New York City, comparable racial and ethnic disparities are accompanied by geographic ones – two-thirds of the City’s MIS-C cases have occurred in the Bronx and Brooklyn, boroughs that are home to large numbers of minority residents.

Collectively, these statistics reflect the pervasive health disparities and structural inequalities that have long impacted New York’s communities of color and that have been laid bare by a pandemic which is anything but a “great equalizer.”  Nor are racial and ethnic disparities in MIS-C unique to New York – these inequities have also been observed in other states as well as internationally.

Fortunately, MIS-C remains relatively rare and New York’s children and youth have been spared the brunt of our State’s COVID-19 infection (to date, only one percent of New Yorkers hospitalized for COVID-19 were under 20 years old).  However, as school districts statewide contemplate a return to in-person schooling, and as an alarming number of states grapple with COVID-19 case surges, we must remain vigilant to the risks that COVID-19 and MIS-C pose to the youngest New Yorkers – and particularly to our Black and Hispanic children and youth.

To learn more about the racial and geographic disparities in our State’s burden of MIS-C – and CDF-NY’s short-term priorities for addressing these disparities – read our Issue Brief here.