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April 9, 2020, 3:10 p.m. EDT

Data shows black Americans are disproportionately impacted by coronavirus

Of the publicly shared victims data on the coronavirus, 42% were black, but African-Americans account for roughly 21% of the total population in the affected areas.

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By Associated Press


Bebeto Matthews
A subway rider wears a mask and a bandanna to protect himself against COVID-19 in New York.

As the coronavirus tightens its grip across the country, it is cutting a particularly devastating swath through an already vulnerable population — black Americans.

Democratic lawmakers and community leaders in cities hard-hit by the pandemic have been sounding the alarm over what they see as a disturbing trend of the virus killing African-Americans at a higher rate, along with a lack of overall information about the race of victims as the nation’s death toll mounts.

Among the cities where black residents have been hard-hit: New York, Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago and Milwaukee.

“Everywhere we look, the coronavirus is devastating our communities,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP.

Of the victims whose demographic data was publicly shared by officials — nearly 3,300 of the nation’s 13,000 deaths thus far — about 42% were black, according to an Associated Press analysis. African-Americans account for roughly 21% of the total population in the areas covered by the analysis.

The AP’s analysis is one of the first attempts to examine the racial disparities of COVID-19 cases and deaths nationwide. It involved examining more than 4,450 deaths and 52,000 COVID-19 cases from across the country, relying on the handful of state and local governments that have released victims’ race.

A history of systemic racism and inequity in access to health care and economic opportunity has made many African-Americans far more vulnerable to the virus. Black adults suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes and asthma, which make them more susceptible, and also are more likely to be uninsured. They also often report that medical professionals take their ailments less seriously when they seek treatment.

“The rate at which black people are dying, compared to whites, is really just astounding,” said Courtney Cogburn, an associate professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work. “There are patterns at this intersection of race and socioeconomic status that make it very clear this is just not a story about poverty.”

President Donald Trump and the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, acknowledged the higher death rate among African-Americans during Tuesday’s White House briefing. The president called it a “tremendous challenge,” and suggested that federal health officials could release national racial and ethnic COVID-19 data within days.

For its analysis, the AP made requests of COVID-19 racial breakdowns in states, cities and counties nationwide, ultimately gathering data from eight states, six major U.S. cities, including New York City and the District of Columbia, and six of Florida’s largest counties.

The data collected ranges from New York to Illinois to Alabama to San Diego, and covers an area that represents 82 million Americans, nearly 43% of whom are nonwhite. Other minority groups’ cases and deaths are fairly in line with their demographics, although those among Hispanic individuals in some hot spots are still high.

The data came mostly from large, racially diverse cities and states, but even in states where nonwhite populations are large, the impact of COVID-19 was outsized, particularly on the black community. The effect was so large that even if the 1,200 death cases that the AP excluded from its analysis because they were recorded as “race unknown” turned out to be white patients, blacks still would be overrepresented in the share of cases — and even more so in the share of deaths.

For instance, Louisiana tracked demographic data in 512 deaths and found 70% of victims were black, despite African-Americans comprising just 32% of the state’s population. In Michigan, more than half of the deaths where race data was collected were black residents; the state’s population is 14% black.

Illinois’ population is 17% Hispanic and 14% black yet, as of Monday, 63% of its caseload of more than 9,000 COVID cases with racial data recorded were nonwhite residents, and at least 40% of the state’s 307 victims were black.

ZIP Code data in New York City released last week showed that black, brown and immigrant communities are disproportionately represented among the diagnosed virus cases and deaths. On Wednesday, the city’s Department of Health released racial data showing 27.5% of the victims whose race is known are black, although blacks are only about 22% of the population.

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