Covid-19: Blacks Contracting and Dying Disproportionately

Photo: Flickr/AbiNar90

Writing for ProPublica, Akilah Johnson and Talia Buford shine light on early data that shows black people are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at an alarming rate. They explore the rate of infection and death in cities like Milwaukee, Detroit and New Orleans. Here are some of the findings:

MILWAUKEE

As of Friday morning (April 3), African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black. Milwaukee is one of the few places in the United States that is tracking the racial breakdown of people who have been infected by the novel coronavirus, offering a glimpse at the disproportionate destruction it is inflicting on black communities nationwide.

MICHIGAN

In Michigan, where the state’s population is 14% black, African Americans made up 35% of cases and 40% of deaths as of Friday morning (April 3). Detroit, where a majority of residents are black, has emerged as a hot spot with a high death toll.

Infographic: Detroit Free Press https://www.freep.com/story/news/health/2020/04/03/coronavirus-covid-19-cases-wayne-county-detroit-michigan/5116620002/

LOUISIANA

New Orleans has emerged as a hot spot. Louisiana has not published case breakdowns by race, but 40% of the state’s deaths have happened in Orleans Parish, where the majority of residents are black.

Illinois and North Carolina are two of the few areas publishing statistics on COVID-19 cases by race, and their data shows a disproportionate number of African Americans were infected.

Environmental, economic and political factors have compounded for generations, putting black people at higher risk of chronic conditions that leave lungs weak and immune systems vulnerable: asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

The article also discussed how black people recoil at being controlled and told where to go based on a history of segregation, which is why some have not been complying with shelter in place mandates. However, it is imperative that blacks get over this resistance because blacks are dying from COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate.

“We’re like, ‘We have to wake people up,’” said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik.

Johnson and Buford write:

“It will be unimaginable pretty soon,” said Dr. Celia J. Maxwell, an infectious disease physician and associate dean at Howard University College of Medicine, a school and hospital in Washington dedicated to the education and care of the black community. “And anything that comes around is going to be worse in our patients. Period. Many of our patients have so many problems, but this is kind of like the nail in the coffin.”

Other issues raised in the article include the CDC’s failure to track race for this particular outbreak and the impact generational impact of unequal access to social, political, economic and medical resources on black communities. These historical racial disparities continue to result in higher death rates for blacks during pandemics like COVID-19 and other issues like maternal and infant mortality.

Johnson and Buford write:

“COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation,” said Jones, who spent 13 years at the CDC, focused on identifying, measuring and addressing racial bias within the medical system. “This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance. … It’s because we’re not valued.”

In a Letter to HHS re racial disparities in COVID response (March 27)  five Congresspeople wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar demanding the federal government track racial data in order to save lives.

Excerpts from the letter written and signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ayana Pressley, Cory Booker, Robin L. Kelly and Kamala Harris said the following:
“We write to call on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)and its sub-agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and other relevant agencies, to monitor and address racial disparities in our nation’s response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency.

During this unprecedented global pandemic, affordable and equitable access to care and treatment is essential to saving lives and slowing the spread of the coronavirus. It is critical that the federal government make a concerted effort to account for existing racial disparities in health care access and how persistent inequities may exacerbate. these disparities in the weeks and months to come as our nation responds to this global health pandemic.

We urge HHS to work with states, localities, and private labs to better collect data on health disparities as we continue to respond to this pandemic.”

This story is developing. Read ProPublica’s entire article here.

This story was written and curated by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual. 

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter @TheBurtonWire. 

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