Illustration for article titled Counties With High Proportion of Black People Made Up More Than Half of All Coronavirus Cases and Deaths, Study Finds
Photo: ROBYN BECK (AFP via Getty Images)

Over the last two months, the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has had on African American communities has been well-documented. But across the country, in large part because of inconsistencies in how health data is collected state to state and at the federal level, we still don’t have a complete view of how deep, or how wide, that impact actually is.

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A new study conducted by epidemiologists and clinician-researchers from six organizations and universities across the country, including the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, sought to fill in those gaps.

The study focused on counties that had higher and lower proportions of black residents. Researchers found that counties with high rates of African American residents comprised 52 percent of all diagnoses and 58 percent of all COVID-19 deaths nationally.

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This despite the fact that black people make up less than 14 percent of the U.S. population.

“In small metro areas as well as rural areas, we’re seeing disproportionately higher Covid-19 deaths taking place in primarily black counties,” Gregorio Millett, one of the study’s lead investigators, told Politico.

The study supports local and state data, including in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia, that showed African American communities were getting hit much harder by the virus than white people.

Here are some of the most notable takeaways and considerations from the study, via Politico:

  • Disproportionately black counties devastated coronavirus also had high levels of underlying chronic conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes
  • Counties considered “disproportionately black” included any county that had a black population of 13 percent or higher (bringing it above the national average)
  • 91 percent of the 677 “disproportionately black” counties were in the South
  • As of April 12, 283,750 coronavirus cases were tracked in counties that had relatively high black populations, and nearly 12,800 deaths.
  • Counties where black residents were 13 percent or less of the population had significantly lower infection and death rates, at 263,640 coronavirus cases and 8,886 deaths.
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The study is still under review for publication in a medical journal, but scientists posted their findings Tuesday hoping the data could influence policy decisions at the state and federal level. Some Southern states, like Georgia and Florida, have begun the process of reopening, despite the fact that the U.S. has yet to flatten its coronavirus curve.

The researchers also noted that actual cases of coronavirus cases and deaths could be substantially higher for black communities than what their numbers show, since African Americans have less access to tests and medical care than those living in predominantly white neighborhoods.

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Dr. Patrick Sullivan, a professor of epidemiology at Emory University, told Politico that the findings require interventions “like considering emergency enrollment for the Affordable Care Act”—a proposal Donald Trump rejected in March—“And in the longer term, Medicaid expansion in the South.”

Staff writer, The Root.

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