The coronavirus can infect virtually all humans, but not all suffer in the same way. The elderly and those with underlying chronic conditions are particularly at risk of the most devastating COVID-19 symptoms. Some communities are also more vulnerable than others. In the United States, African Americans form a particularly vulnerable group due to their higher incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
A new article in the journal JAMA analyzed the most recent COVID-19 stats and news reports, finding that African Americans are contracting SARS-CoV-2 at higher rates and are more likely to die from the disease.
“In Chicago, more than 50% of COVID-19 cases and nearly 70% of COVID-19 deaths involve black individuals, although blacks make up only 30% of the population. Moreover, these deaths are concentrated mostly in just 5 neighborhoods on the city’s South Side. In Louisiana, 70.5% of deaths have occurred among black persons, who represent 32.2% of the state’s population. In Michigan, 33% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of deaths have occurred among black individuals, who represent 14% of the population. If New York City has become the epicenter, this disproportionate burden is validated again in underrepresented minorities, especially blacks and now Hispanics, who have accounted for 28% and 34% of deaths, respectively (population representation: 22% and 29%, respectively),” wrote Clyde W. Yancy from Northwestern University in his recent JAMA perspective article.
According to Yancy’s research, coronavirus infections among African Americans living in 131 predominantly black communities were three times greater than in predominantly white counties. The number of fatalities was six times greater than in white communities.
“Even though these data are preliminary and further study is warranted, the pattern is irrefutable: underrepresented minorities are developing COVID-19 infection more frequently and dying disproportionately. Do these observations qualify as evident health care disparities? Yes,” Yancy wrote.
Yancy argues that the findings are explained not only by the higher incidence of comorbidities in African American communities, but also by socioeconomic factors. Many black people in the United States live in poor areas that put them at a greater risk of disease. “Not just for cardiovascular diseases but now for COVID-19 mortality,” Yancy said.
Previous research found a bias against black Americans, who tend to receive less care than is clinically appropriate. However, there is no treatment for COVID-19.
This means that the hugely disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities among African Americans are not as much due to suboptimal medical care as they are a consequence of long-standing discrimination across decades.
“What makes this particularly egregious is that unlike the known risk factors for which physicians and others can stridently offer clear advice regarding prevention, these concerns—the burden of ill health, limited access to healthy food, housing density, the need to work or else, the inability to practice social distancing—cannot be well-articulated as clear, pithy, and easily actionable items,” the researcher wrote.
“Public health is complicated and social reengineering is complex, but change of this magnitude does not happen without a new resolve. The US has needed a trigger to fully address health care disparities; COVID-19 may be that bellwether event. Certainly, within the broad and powerful economic and legislative engines of the US, there is room to definitively address a scourge even worse than COVID-19: health care disparities. It only takes will. It is time to end the refrain.”