As the coronavirus tightens its grip across the country, it cuts a particularly devastating band across an already vulnerable population – black Americans.
Democratic lawmakers and community leaders in hard-hit pandemic cities have sounded the alarm over what they see as a disturbing trend of the virus killing African Americans at a higher rate, as well as a lack general information on the race of the victims. the nation’s death toll is rising.
Among the cities where black residents have been hit hard: New York, Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago and Milwaukee.
“Wherever we look, the coronavirus is devastating our communities,” said Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP.
According to an Associated Press analysis, of the victims whose demographics were publicly shared by officials – around 3,300 of the 13,000 deaths in the country to date – about 42% were black. African Americans represent approximately 21% of the total population in the areas covered by the analysis.
The AP analysis is one of the first attempts to examine racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths nationwide. It involved examining more than 4,450 deaths and 52,000 COVID-19 cases across the country, drawing on the handful of state and local governments that released the race.
A history of systemic racism and inequality in access to health care and economic opportunities has made many African-Americans much more vulnerable to the virus. Black adults suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes and asthma, which makes them more sensitive and are also more likely to be uninsured. They also often report that health care professionals take their ailments less seriously when seeking treatment.
“The death rate for blacks, compared to whites, is truly staggering,” said Courtney Cogburn, associate professor at Columbia University School of Social Work. “There are models at this intersection of race and socio-economic status that make it very clear that this is simply not a story of poverty.”
President Donald Trump and the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, acknowledged the higher death rate among African Americans at the White House briefing on Tuesday. The president called it a “formidable challenge” and suggested that federal health officials be able to release national COVID-19 racial and ethnic data in a matter of days.
For its analysis, the AP made requests for COVID-19 race failures in the states, cities and counties of the country, eventually collecting data from eight states, six major American cities, including New York and the District of Columbia, and six of the largest counties in Florida.
The data collected ranges from New York to Illinois, Alabama and San Diego, and covers an area that represents 82 million Americans, nearly 43% of whom are not white. The cases and deaths of other minority groups are fairly consistent with their demographic characteristics, although those of Hispanics in some hot spots are still high.
The data came mainly from large racially diverse cities and states, but even in states with large non-white populations, the impact of COVID-19 was disproportionate, particularly on the black community. The effect was so significant that even if the 1,200 deaths that the PA excluded from its analysis because they were registered as “unknown race” turned out to be white patients, Blacks would still be overrepresented in the share cases – and even more so in the share of deaths.
For example, Louisiana traced the demographics of 512 deaths and found that 70% of the victims were black, while African Americans made up only 32% of the state’s population. In Michigan, more than half of the deaths where race data were collected were black residents; the state population is black at 14%.
Illinois’s population is 17% Hispanic and 14% Black. On Monday, 63% of his 9,000 COVID cases containing race data were non-white residents and at least 40% of the state’s 307 victims were black.
New York zip code data released last week showed that black, brown and immigrant communities are disproportionately represented among diagnosed virus cases and deaths. On Wednesday, the city’s health ministry released race data showing that 27.5% of victims of known race are black, although blacks make up only about 22% of the population.
“It’s crazy. It’s disturbing. It’s wrong,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, “and we’re going to fight back with everything we have.”
The dispersed dissemination of data comes at a time when the Centers for Disease Protection and Control are under increasing pressure to be more transparent about the balance of the virus on communities of color.
The agency has not released racial or ethnic demographics for COVID-19 tests performed across the country, although its own standardized form required to report COVID-19 tests and cases includes a section to indicate the race or ethnicity of those tested. On Wednesday, the CDC released race data on March hospitalizations in 14 states that showed that a third of the patients were black.
Among the entities that communicated racial data to the PA, a large proportion of them were sorely lacking. Overall, more than a third of the case files did not include race, and in some places, such as Virginia and parts of Florida, that number was more than half.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyer Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, told the PA that it would be “untenable” if the federal government withheld test and treatment data. The committee, along with hundreds of health professionals, on Monday sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Social Services, Alex Azar, urging him to ensure that his agency “collects, monitors and disseminates race data” on the coronavirus.
African-Americans and people of certain ethnicities share an additional vulnerability: they are overrepresented among workers such as nurses’ aides, grocery clerks, emergency dispatchers and public transport workers who cannot telecommuting. This forces them to enter the general public at a time when others are subject to strict home stay orders.
“Just stand on a platform and you will see that the trains are filled with low-income black and brown people who go into the communities to serve those who are able to telecommute,” said Eric Adams , president of New York’s Brooklyn Borough of York.
Milwaukee community organizer Sylvester Jackson, who has recently been diagnosed with COVID-19, lives on the predominantly black side of town, where many cases are concentrated. “It is unbelievable that people on one side of this city are dying like this,” he said.
Each loss leaves a ripple, forever changing families and communities.
The pastor of a black church in Baton Rouge was one of the first confirmed deaths from coronavirus in Louisiana, followed a few days later by the loss of a member of the clergy of Shreveport known for his street ministries. The virus claimed one of the most revered musicians in the state, Ellis Marsalis, as well as a popular DJ from New Orleans who was a leading figure in the city’s music scene.
In Detroit, Gloria Smith, a celebrity from the city’s African World Festival, died within a week of her husband, and educator and playwright Brenda Perryman.
Marsha Battle Philpot, writer and cultural historian known as Marsha Music, said that a Facebook memorial page was inundated daily with stories of loss among black people in Detroit.
“I think it will be a collective loss that will pass down through the generations,” she said.
Stafford and Morrison are members of the PA’s Race and Ethnicity team. Stafford reports from Detroit, Morrison from New York and Hoyer from Washington. Writers Associated Press Sophia Tareen in Chicago, Deb Riechmann in Washington, Ashraf Khalil in Washington, Mike Stobbe in New York, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama and Josh Hoffner in Phoenix have contributed.
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