Apr 8, 2020 - Health

African Americans are disproportionately dying from coronavirus

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams at a Coronavirus Task Force Press news briefing. Photo: Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has highlighted the disproportionate impact the novel coronavirus is having on African American communities, telling CBS Tuesday "many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID."

Driving the news: Several states and cities have reported that African Americans are dying from the virus at higher rates than any other racial demographic. Not all agencies have released a breakdown of data, but the virus is spiking in cities with large African American populations, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans.

"I have high blood pressure ... I have heart disease and spent a week in the (intensive care unit) due to a heart condition," Adams said. "I actually have asthma and I'm pre-diabetic, and so I represent that legacy of growing up poor and black. I and many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID. It's why we need everyone to do their part to slow the spread."
— Adams on CBS

What they're saying: Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a briefing Tuesday African Americans "are suffering disproportionately." "[W]hen they do get infected, their underlying medical conditions ... wind them up in the ICU," he said.

  • Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders during a livestream discussion Tuesday evening pointed to "systemic racism" and a "dysfunctional healthcare system" on the disparities, with some 87 million Americans "uninsured or underinsured."
  • Michigan physician Victoria Dooley noted to Sanders that many African Americans, particularly women, are "underpaid" essential workers, who are more exposed to the risk of catching the virus. "The fact that African Americans are disproportionally incarcerated, is a huge factor," she said.
"African Americans make up only about 13% of the population but we are 40 per cent of the homeless population. So of course, you don't have a home to live the shelter to be in for shelter in place, you're going to be disproportionately impacted."
— Dooley's remarks to Sanders

Zoom in: A Washington Post analysis of available data and census demographics found counties where most of the population is African American have "three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority."

  • In Michigan, African Americans account for 14% of the population but 33% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of all deaths, per details published Tuesday by the state health department.
  • Louisiana Department of Health figures show 70% of those who have died from the virus in the state were African Americans, who represent about 32% of the population, ABC News first reported.
  • In Chicago, African Americans, who make up 30% of city's population, accounted for 68% of deaths from COVID-19, the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday, citing state health department data.
  • In Milwaukee County, African Americans represent 26% of the popultation. But they accounted for almost half of the 941 people infected and 81% of the 27 who died, ProPublica reported Friday.

Go deeper: Coronavirus hits poor, minority communities harder

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