One of the more insidious bits of misinformation in the early days of the pandemic was the idea that black people were somehow, as if by magic, immune to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Not only was that rumor grossly inaccurate, a new report reveals that black people are getting hit by the disease at an alarmingly high rate.
ProPublica reports that early data show that black people are not only contracting the coronavirus at disproportionate rates but also dying at higher rates. Though data on race and ethnicity of COVID-19 patients are limited, some localities have begun tracking the racial breakdown of infected patients.
As ProPublica reports:
As of Friday morning, African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black. Milwaukee is one of the few places in the United States that is tracking the racial breakdown of people who have been infected by the novel coronavirus, offering a glimpse at the disproportionate destruction it is inflicting on black communities nationwide.
In Michigan, where the state’s population is 14% black, African Americans made up 35% of cases and 40% of deaths as of Friday morning. Detroit, where a majority of residents are black, has emerged as a hot spot with a high death toll. As has New Orleans. Louisiana has not published case breakdowns by race, but 40% of the state’s deaths have happened in Orleans Parish, where the majority of residents are black.
Black communities have less access to coronavirus testing and are more vulnerable to implicit biases, Buzzfeed notes. It’s no surprise that there are serious inequities in healthcare, especially with regard to race; however, doctors and lawmakers alike are calling for the government to provide demographic data of COVID-19 patients.
“We know in the U.S. that there are great discrepancies in not only the diagnosis but the treatment that African Americans and other minorities are afforded,” Dr. Ebony Hilton, an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Virginia, told Buzzfeed. “So I want to make sure that in this pandemic, that black and brown people are treated in the same way and that these tests are made available in the same pattern as for white people.”
Again, none of this is surprising. We know that access to paid sick leave and comprehensive health insurance disproportionately affect communities of color, as well as chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular diseases, which make people of color more susceptible to contracting COVID-19.
These and other reasons have sparked members of Congress, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), to petition for the Department of Health and Human Services to better collect and distribute demographic data. Not only will this data provide critical statistics on health disparities, but it will also allow health professionals to address communities who are underrepresented in testing and ensure more accountability in the healthcare industry.