COVID-19 Infection and Death Risks are Higher for Blacks – Why?

The latest COVID-19 reports indicate the stark reality of healthcare in the U.S.   African Americans are bearing the brunt of the pandemic hospitalizations and death.

Georgia:  In eight hospitals, mostly in Atlanta, 80 percent of the cases involve Blacks.[1]  As Gov.  Brian Kemp moved to open up stores and business, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms responded, “If he’s wrong, more people will die.  From a racial standpoint, it’s clear that most of them will be black.

New York:   Blacks almost twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as Whites and other minorities.[2] Mayor De Blasio: “It’s sick, It’s bad! It’s wrong!”[3]

California   COVID-19 proves twice as deadly for Blacks as for Whites[4]

The initial scientific analysis of COVID-19 sickness and death focused on the age of patients.   A preliminary study of COVID-19 hospitalizations during  March in 14 states including New York, Connecticut, Maryland,  Michigan, Illinois and California (but not PA) showed the risk of infection increased the older the age the patient.[5]  Over 90 percent of the elderly people who died had one or more underlying medical conditions – high blood pressure, overweigh;  long term lung disease, diabetes, or heart disease. With the concentrations of elderly people in nursing homes and long term care facilities, this grim reality has not fully played out.

Now, evidence indicates that higher proportions of African Americans and Hispanics are showing up with Covid-19 and dying from it.  The same study showed that rate of hospitalization for Blacks was almost double that of white patients with a lower percentage as well for Hispanics.  Scientific studies have shown that Backs have a higher incidence of almost all the serious pre-existing conditions mentioned:  hypertension, obesity, and lung and kidney disease.

In New York, a different study showed Black/African American persons (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanic/Latino persons (74.3) that were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5) persons [6]. Studies are underway to confirm these data and understand and potentially reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic minorities.

Why is this happening? 

First, it’s how they live, where they go to school, what kind of jobs they hold, and how they spend their spare time all contributes to their health. These factors lead to different health risks and outcomes for African Americans and other minorities.  These conditions, over time, lead to different levels of health risks, needs, and outcomes.  In the case of COVID-19, for instance, all these factors make the social distancing guidelines more difficult to follow.

A high proportion of inner-city residents have essential jobs – many in the healthcare, municipal service, and food fields – that force them to work outside the home; fewer have the internet capability to perform office jobs at home. 

Workers without paid sick leave are more likely to want to continue working even when they are sick.  When they get sick, half as many African Americans have broad health insurance to cover the cost of treatment.

Added to these economic and social inequalities, health authorities have known for decades that African Americans suffer long term health problems at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups:

As we suffer through the pain and stress of personal loss from the pandemic infections – family and friends who are sick and dying – alone or in closed group situations like prisons, factories, and nursing homes – we must make our government leaders aware of this new evidence of racial injustice.  When the COVID-19 curves have flattened and hospital emergency wards are back to normal, elected officials will forget again about the silent virus of chronic, systemic racism that pervades our society. Now is time to remind our state and local officials of this reality. 

November 3 is the time to change our national priorities to reverse these inequities.

[1] www.cbsnews.com/news/georgia-coronavirus-patients-black-covid-19/

[2] Abcnews, April 17

[3] abcnews.go.com/US/black-people-nyc-deblasio, April 8

[4] www.sfchronicle.com/health/article/Coronavirus-appears-twice-as-deadly-for-blacks, April 17

[5] www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm69.15e3.htm2s 

[6] www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-19-deaths-race-ethnicity-04162020-1.pdf

 

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