By mid-April (three months after the start of the pandemic in the U.S.), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were breaking down only 35% of their data according to race and ethnicity. And some studies indicated that race was “unknown” for up to 78% of the people receiving a diagnosis. The incomplete data painted a false picture of White patients representing a higher proportion of COVID-19 diagnoses.
But a study led by researchers from Yale University using more recent data from disparate U.S. states revealed that Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than their White counterparts. Latino people are twice as likely to die as compared with White Americans. According to the authors of the Yale study, “the magnitude of these COVID-19 disparities varied substantially across states. While some states do not have demonstrable disparities, [Black and Latino populations] in other states face 5- or 10 fold or higher risk of death than their white counterparts.”
While the Yale study has yet to be peer reviewed, similar results have been reported by the nonpartisan American Public Media (APM) Research Lab. The APM reported “[t]he latest overall COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times as high as the rate for whites and 2.2 times as high as the rate for Asians and Latinos.”
The APM report was based on the total number of deaths up to May 19, 2020, by which time the scientists had race and ethnic information on 89% of those who had died from COVID-19. The data was from 40 of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. And the size of the disparities grew when broken down by localities. For instance, in Kansas, Black residents are seven times more likely to have died than Whites; in Washington, D.C. the rate among the Black population is six times higher than Whites; and in Missouri and Wisconsin, it’s five times greater.
The APM report also revealed that deaths of Black Americans from the disease was twice that as their share of the population. In the areas that released COVID-19 mortality data, Black Americans made up 13% of the population yet accounted for 25% of the deaths.
Speaking by teleconference, Professor David R. Williams, chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology at Harvard University pointed out that racial inequities exist for almost every disease and COVID-19 is no exception. He said, “For over 100 years, research has documented that Black people in America and Native Americans live sicker and shorter lives than the average American. [The new coronavirus serves as a] magnifying glass that helps us to see some long-standing shortfalls in health” that have existed for centuries.
Some of these include:
• Gap in income — for every dollar in white household income, Black households receive 59 cents, Latino households receive 79 cents, and Native American households 60 cents;
• Low paying jobs mean minorities must leave home and work jobs that expose them to the virus and disease;
• Lower economic power also means living in poorer, densely crowded communities where multi-generational housing is the norm and social distancing is not a viable option;
• The health-care system — or lack thereof — for Black Americans is plagued with discrimination, underfunded, and ill-equipped (a Black American in prison has a better chance of surviving diseases such as pancreatic cancer than a Black American living in a community of color).
Additionally, Professor John Eason, Ph.D, associate professor in the department of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pointed to many factors related to COVID-19 and Blacks in the context of prisons:
• In about 35 years, Americans built over 1,100 prisons with a combined land mass of more than 600 square miles;
• The expansion has included the employment of more than 450,000 corrections officers — 22% to 23% of whom are Black;
• The average town that had a new prison built within it had a higher Black and Latinx population percentage;
• Counties with prisons have higher rates of COVID-19 than counties without;
• Corrections officers account for the transmission of the virus between prison and community;
• Many of the prisons were built in rural communities with inadequate health care available.
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