Pictured /U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams
Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CBS News that African-Americans are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
However as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s information site did not include a racial breakdown. A coalition of congressional lawmakers has asked the CDC to make racial data on coronavirus testing, cases, hospitalizations and fatalities publicly available.
After agreeing that the CDC and the federal government should be tracking the impact of the coronavirus within different demographic groups, Adams said that his office had been discussing health equity prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
“But my office, long before COVID-19, has been talking about health equity, has been talking about the need to help people understand when they’re at risk and to actually intervene,” Adams said.
According to US News & World Report, in both Louisiana and Chicago, for example, recent statistics showed that roughly 70% of COVID-19 deaths occurred among Backs, even though they are a minority in both areas.
In North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County – home of Charlotte, the state’s largest city – Black people make up 32.9% of residents, but accounted for 43.7% of reported coronavirus cases as of April 4. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, Blacks make up about 27% percent of the population but comprised almost half of all COVID-19 infections – and, as of data early Tuesday afternoon, 71% of all fatalities.
Next door in Michigan, state health officials report that 33% of COVID-19 cases have occurred among African Americans – 10 percentage points higher than Whites, and more than twice the state’s percentage of Black residents. African Americans also accounted for 41% of deaths, compared with 28% among Whites and 26% of cases for which race wasn’t known.
Some experts were appalled but not surprised by the grim data, and anticipate the disparities will get worse as the pandemic grinds on.
At the same time, doe experts say they “don’t know for sure” the true extent of illness and death disparities between Blacks and W hites because many states and cities have lagged on including race when compiling and releasing data on the coronavirus pandemic.
Experts have warned that long-standing health disparities between racial groups in the U.S. – such as higher rates of conditions like asthma, obesity and diabetes, along with lower access to health care among Blacks compared with Whites – place some African Americans directly in the virus’ sights, leaving them at risk of contracting a serious case of COVID-19.
Surgeon General Adams added he has personally shared having high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and being pre-diabetic.
“So I represent that legacy of growing up poor and Black in America, and I and many Black Americans are at higher risk for COVID,” Adams said. “It’s why we need everyone to do their part to slow the spread.”
Meanwhile, hidden biases White doctors have toward Black patients, and Black Americans’ historical mistrust of the medical system, could exacerbate the situation, speeding the spread of the virus in struggling communities. Many Black Americans also hold low-wage jobs in which it may not be possible to work from home, potentially increasing their chances of infection.
And as bad as the news is for African Americans, experts say this may be just the end of the beginning. Southern states that have turned their backs on the Affordable Care Act, likely represent the next surge of new COVID-19 cases among Blacks and Latinos.
The high death totals among African Americans send a clear signal that the health care system must be overhauled and recalibrated to reduce disparities that the coronavirus pandemic has revealed.