The idea that the virus affects us all is true — to an extent. We’ve seen since February that the elderly and immunocompromised are at a much higher risk from the virus. We’re seeing results showing that people suffering from diabetes or cardiovascular problems are also at an increased risk, as are smokers and people living in areas with high pollution are also at a higher risk.
In Milwaukee, the disease first started spreading in an affluent, mostly white suburb. Within a week after the first case was announced, the number of confirmed cases surged to 40 and has only accelerated since. But the profile of the average patient has changed, and it now seems to spread disproportionately through black communities. This trend seems to be happening in many parts of the country.
In Philadelphia, the initial patients were almost all white — now, they are primarily African Americans. In Michigan, the exact same situation was reported. It seems that everywhere you look in the US, COVID-19 is spreading at an accelerated rate through the black communities.
It’s hard to say just what the long-term patterns of disease spread will be, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this disease is that by the time we know something with certainty, the disease has already hit hard.
To make matters even worse, this is not only a health issue — it’s economic, too.
Within African American communities, a larger part of the population simply can’t afford social isolation. The economic gap that black communities suffer in the US is well known, and the coronavirus outbreak will likely only work to accentuate that gap. In some parts of the country, simply being black means your life expectancy is about a decade shorter than of someone white, although that gap has somewhat diminished recently.
The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, but our social and economic system does. For instance, one recent analysis found that in several states, doctors are less likely to refer African Americans for testing when they show up with COVID-19 symptoms.
Add all that to the fact that pre-existing health conditions can worsen coronavirus infections — and many of these conditions are prevalent in African American communities — and you get a health ticking timebomb.
Most African Americans also live in the south of the country, and the south (with poorer access to healthcare, more underlying health issues, and lower trust in government) is a fertile ground for coronavirus, and there will be little time to prepare.
New York is the outbreak epicenter, but we are seeing the numbers rise rapidly in other places. It’s only a matter of time before more and more cities and states are faced with their own crisis. Knowing who is most at risk can be crucial.