As Georgia gets set to reopen more non-essential business this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study finding that more than 80 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were black.
Shared on Wednesday, the CDC study looked at 305 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in eight Georgia hospitals, seven of which were in the metro Atlanta area, reports CBS News.
The numbers are additional validation of widespread racial disparities in the coronavirus pandemic that first hit the U.S. in March. The statistics are alarming, and they are consistent. From CBS:
In Maryland, black people are 31% of the population but nearly 45% of probable coronavirus deaths. In Louisiana, they are 33% of the population and 56% of deaths. Major cities including New York, Chicago, Detroit and Washington D.C. have also reported racial disparities in cases.
As the Washington Post reports, about 40 percent of patients surveyed had diabetes, and a quarter had cardiovascular disease—both chronic conditions that make people more susceptible to developing severe coronavirus symptoms. According to the Post, black Georgians are twice as likely as white residents to have diabetes and more likely than white Georgians to die of heart disease.
But it’s just as important to note that a quarter of the patients hospitalized had no symptoms at all. Of that number, 5 percent died, underscoring the fact that the novel coronavirus is killing healthy people who may overestimate their resilience to COVID-19.
The Post notes that most patients in the study had private insurance or Medicare. All of the Medicaid patients—11 percent—were black, “but the black patients were no more likely than others to be uninsured.” According to the state’s own numbers, black Georgians made up 50 percent of all coronavirus deaths so far, despite making up less than a third of all residents.
In total, more than 1,000 have died from the coronavirus in Georgia. While the results of the CDC study are troubling, it’s possible that the statewide rates are worse: death rates have been higher in Georgia’s rural areas than in its cities and suburbs, and black people remain heavily impacted in those areas as well. As the Post writes: “All five counties with the highest number of cases per capita are in southwest Georgia, and all are predominantly black.”
“It is important to continue ongoing efforts to understand the reasons for these racial disparities, including the role of socioeconomic and occupational factors in transmission,” the CDC researchers wrote. “Public officials should consider racial differences among patients affected by COVID-19 when planning prevention activities.”
The study comes out as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp pushed his state to be among the first to ease stay-at-home restrictions, even as the pandemic is still cresting in many parts of the country. Last week, Georgia allowed some non-essential businesses, such as gyms, hair and salons and barbershops to open. Movie theaters and restaurants offering dine-in service are slated to reopen this week, reports CBS News.
The governor’s decision has alarmed many and pitted mayors and other local officials against the governor. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CBSN that Gov. Kemp’s decision could be deadly for the city.
“What I’ve said is, I hope the governor is right and I’m wrong,” she said. “Because if he’s wrong, more people will die.”
The state stopped reporting COVID-19 deaths by race this week, but a spokeswoman representing the Georgia Department of Health told the Post it hopes to release those new statewide numbers in a few days.