As U.S. coronavirus deaths cross 100,000, black Americans bear disproportionate share of fatalities

As U.S. coronavirus deaths cross 100,000, black Americans bear disproportionate share of fatalities


Medical staff move bodies from the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center to a refrigerated truck on April 2, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Black Americans continue to make up a disproportionate share of Covid-19 fatalities as the number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic exceeds 100,000 in the United States, according to an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 23% of reported Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. are African American as of May 20, even though black people make up roughly 13% of the U.S. population, according to racial demographic information on Covid-19 cases and deaths from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma that tend to plague African Americans more than other racial groups could be contributing to more Covid-19 deaths. Income inequalities and disparities in access to health care, which generally lead to poorer diets and overall health, tend to hurt minority and lower-income populations more than others.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, said in April that the coronavirus outbreak is “shining a bright light” on how “unacceptable” the health disparities between blacks and whites are.

The disproportionate share of African American deaths is also seen state by state. In Georgia, black Americans represent 32% of the state’s population but account for roughly 47% of Covid-19 deaths, according to the CDC data.

In Michigan, black people make up nearly 14% of the population and account for roughly 39% of deaths. Black Americans make up nearly 33% of Louisiana’s population. They account for 54% of Covid-19 deaths in the state, according to the CDC.

In New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., black Americans and people in lower-income communities have been getting hit disproportionately harder by the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said.

On March 31, the CDC released a report that said people with diabetes, chronic lung disease or heart disease or those who smoke may be at increased risk of developing severe complications if they get infected with the coronavirus.

The CDC found that a higher percentage of patients with underlying conditions were admitted to the hospital or into intensive care than patients without underlying conditions. About 78% of ICU patients and 71% of hospitalized Covid-19 patients had one or more reported underlying health conditions, the CDC said.

Other U.S. officials and experts say the number of Covid-19 deaths among black Americans also reflects longstanding inequalities in the U.S., including access to medical attention and food. They said black Americans also disproportionately represent workers who are not able to work from home as part of social distancing measures intended to curb the spread of the virus.

Public health officials have known that African Americans overrepresent people with underlying conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, Fauci said on April 7. “Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus, the things that get people into ICUs that require incubation that often lead to death, they are just those very comorbidities.”

To be sure, the CDC data doesn’t provide a full picture of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. The data is incomplete, the CDC says, with delays of reported deaths ranging from one to eight weeks or more. 

Additionally, the CDC data excludes 11 states, and the agency recommends using weighted percentages it says to reflect a more accurate comparison between Covid-19 deaths and population by race. 

Some U.S. lawmakers and civil rights groups have criticized the CDC for not releasing more details on the racial breakdown of those dying from the pandemic.


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