Newly released data on COVID-19 infections and deaths in South Carolina reveals that the global pandemic seems to be disproportionately targeting the state’s rural black residents in the same way it has targeted non-white people in more populous states.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) meticulously compiled the state’s COVID-19 numbers, offering one of the most detailed glimpses into the spread of coronavirus of any state so far. South Carolina’s statistics disprove many of the speculative reasons officials have given for why the novel strain has disproportionately affected African American communities.
Although the number of cases across the state has doubled every seven days since the week of March 7, Republican Gov. Henry Mcmaster’s stay-at-home order is less than a week old, making S.C. one of the last states to issue such a directive. As of Tuesday, April 14, 3,439 South Carolinians have tested positive for COVID-19, with 87 succumbing to the viral illness. Roughly 10.5 percent of the residents who were checked have tested positive for the virus but DHEC experts estimate that the true number of cases statewide is most likely more than 20,000.
National health authorities have speculated that the disproportionate infection and death rates among black communities were due to population density. Because cities like Chicago and Milwaukee were among the first to share racially disaggregated data, officials theorized that black people were affected because they were more likely to live in densely-populated urban areas.
That is not the case in South Carolina.
It’s not the city dwellers who are catching and dying from COVID-19 in South Carolina—just black people.
While the state is 27.4 percent African American, black South Carolinians accounted for 38 percent of the Palmetto State’s COVID-19 cases and an astounding 46 percent of the fatalities. Comparing the infection rate by county, seven of the state’s 10 blackest counties are also among the top half of the state’s hardest-hit counties, while more concentrated areas are less infected.
For instance, the state’s most population-dense area, Greenville County, S.C., has an infection rate of 64.74 positive COVID-19 tests per 100,000 people, which is relatively low compared to Lee County’s infection rate of 172.3 per 100,000. Greenville County is also one of the 6 whitest counties in the state. Lee County, S.C. is the third-blackest county in the state.
In fact, Allendale County, South Carolina’s least densely populated county, is also the state’s blackest. Allendale also ranks in the top third of S.C.’s coronavirus infection rates. The state’s whitest county? That would be Pickens County. Its population is 10 times denser (243 people per square mile) than Allendale County’s (23 per square mile). Yet, Pickens County’s COVID-19 infection rate (22.07) is half of Allendale’s (57.55).
It’s not the population density, dawg.
So what is it?
Come on, you already know.
According to data from the Census and Department of Education, South Carolina has the third-worst black-to-white education gap in America. The state’s black population also ranks in America’s bottom third in uninsurance rates, income disparities, healthcare affordability and the number of people who went without healthcare because of affordability. The Palmetto State also has one of the highest black incarceration rates in the nation.
Why is that important? Well, South Carolina also lists the facilities where tests were conducted, including five state prisons. So far, 29 prison employees have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections, but zero prisoners have tested positive for the disease.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network has organized a petition calling for states to release racial data on coronavirus.
One more thing...
Of the 10 blackest counties in South Carolina, five do not have a single ICU bed.