Coronavirus Is Hitting One Community Particularly Hard

Death rates are up disproportionately for African-Americans
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2020 12:15 PM CDT
In Coronavirus Numbers, a Racial Disparity Emerges
A man covers his face with a mask while shopping in Milwaukee.   (Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via AP)

As researchers scramble to get a firmer handle on the coronavirus toll, one aspect of the illness is coming into focus: It's hitting black communities around the nation disproportionately hard. A stew of medical and sociological factors appears to be at play, and there's a growing call for the feds to mandate the collection and release of data on the disease along racial lines. Coverage:

  • The pattern: It's seen in places such as Milwaukee, where black residents make up 73% of coronavirus deaths in the surrounding county but only 28% of the population, reports the Washington Post. Nearly twice as many black residents have tested positive as white people there, notes the New York Times. Similar disparities are seen in New Orleans, Detroit, North and South Carolina, Las Vegas, Chicago—pretty much everywhere. In Chicago, African-Americans account for less than a third of the population but 72% of deaths. "Those numbers take your breath away," says Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. "This is a call-to-action moment for all of us."

  • The factors: ProPublica was one of the first to report on the emerging racial disparities. Its story notes that, generally speaking, African-Americans have higher rates of underlying medical conditions that can make COVID-19 lethal, including diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and hypertension. What's more, African-Americans "have gravitated to jobs in sectors viewed as reliable paths to the middle class—health care, transportation, government, food supply—which are now deemed 'essential,' rendering them unable to stay home."
  • And more: Consider, too, that African-Americans frequently have to travel further to go grocery shopping, because they have fewer options in their own neighborhoods. And compared to white people, they generally have more limited access to health care and are less likely to be insured.
  • Call for data: Last week, five Democrats in Congress, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, called for the federal government to collect and release coronavirus data with racial breakdowns, reports CBS News. Some cities, including Milwaukee, already have begun doing so, but it's scattershot. "A pandemic exposes the deep and devastating effects of inequality throughout this country," Warren tells the Post. "It was always there, but it’s the coronavirus that has brought it to the surface.”
  • About those masks: Another issue for African-Americans is the CDC advisory that everyone wear face coverings in public. As CNN reports, some minorities are leery of doing so because of fears of racial profiling by police. "I am a Black man living in this world," tweets an educator in Ohio. "I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive."
(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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