Apr 10, 2020 - Health

Chronic health conditions, inequality put people of color at higher risk for coronavirus

African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics are more likely to be endangered by the coronavirus due to chronic health conditions and the effects of economic inequality, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in Friday's White House briefing.

What he's saying: "We do not think people of color are biologically or genetically predisposed to get COVID-19. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. But they are socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure and to have a higher incidence of the very diseases that put you at risk for severe complications of coronavirus."

Catch up quick: African-Americans are more likely to have several underlying health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some cancers that can make COVID-19 infections more severe, Axios' Sam Baker and Alison Snyder write.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that African Americans "are suffering disproportionately," adding that, "[W]hen they do get infected, their underlying medical conditions ... wind them up in the ICU."
  • "Puerto Ricans have higher rates of asthma, and black boys are three times as likely to die of asthma as their white counterparts," Adams said Friday.
  • "African Americans and Native Americans develop high blood pressure at much younger ages. It's less likely to be under control and does greater harm to their organs," he noted.

The big picture: Several states and cities have reported that African Americans are dying from the virus at higher rates than any other racial demographic.

  • On social distancing, people of color are less likely to be able to practice it, Adams said. The tactic is currently one of the most effective ways people can help slow the spread of the virus.
  • On hand washing, 30% of the homes in Navajo nation don't have running water, Adams said.
  • "Only 1 in 5 African Americans and 1 in 6 Hispanics have a job that lets them work from home," Adams said. "People of color are more likely to live in densely packed areas and in multi-generation housing situations which create higher risk for spread of a highly contagious disease like COVID-19."

The bottom line: "It doesn't matter if you look fit, if you look young, you are still at risk for getting and spreading and dying from coronavirus," Adams said.

Go deeper: African Americans are disproportionately dying from coronavirus

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