Coronavirus: African-American Diagnosed at Twice the Rate of the White Population
The deep socio-economic disparities between the white and minority populations in Washington D.C are playing out in real time with the COVID-19 crisis. More than twice as many black residents of the District have tested positive for COVID-19 than white residents so far, new data released by the city show. Additionally, black residents make up more than half of the COVID-19 deaths in the city up to this point, representing 15 out of 27 total deaths.
Below is an article by DCist
More than twice as many black residents of the District have tested positive for COVID-19 than white residents so far, new data released by the city show. Additionally, black residents make up more than half of the COVID-19 deaths in the city up to this point, representing 15 out of 27 total deaths.
As of April 7, black residents account for 460 of the 1,440 overall confirmed COVID-19 cases in D.C., or 32 percent, compared with 218 cases among white residents, or 15 percent of the total. Yet, in the plurality of cases—some 43 percent—the city currently lists the race of the patient as “unknown,” either because they refused to identify their race during interviews or their race must still be confirmed. The District started releasing race-based coronavirus data this week, a month after it began publishing the overall number of positive cases.
While incomplete and early, D.C.’s racial numbers appear to be in line with trends starting to be seen nationwide as the coronavirus proliferates, with black people experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 deaths and infections than their non-black peers in some jurisdictions. In Louisiana, for example, 70 percent of COVID-19-related deaths are of black residents, according to state data. In Chicago, black residents are dying at roughly six times the rate as white residents, the Chicago Tribune reports. And in Milwaukee, a city that’s about a quarter black, black residents made up nearly half of the reported cases and 81 percent of the deaths as of last week, found ProPublica.
In the District, black residents compose about 46 percent of the population, with white residents representing about 1 percentage point less than that, per recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Black D.C. residents have long faced disparate health outcomes due to lack of access to quality healthcare and other deep-seated factors: A 2016 study by the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies found that black residents’ life expectancies were significantly lower than those of white residents, for both men and women.
Janice Blanchard, an associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University Hospital who studies racial disparities in U.S. healthcare, says there are several reasons why people of color, including black people, may be at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in comparison to the general population. One reason is that many residents of color rely on public transportation to get to and from jobs that don’t allow them to work remotely, says Blanchard. This means it’s not always so easy for them to maintain social distance and combat the coronavirus as advised by health officials.
“Social distancing is very hard to do … when you have to get on a bus every day to go to work,” says Blanchard. In communities of color, what experts call “social determinants” of health, such as environmental, educational, and work conditions, may inflame chronic health conditions, like hypertension and heart disease, which in turn can negatively impact mortality rates as well.
As a result, the coronavirus is exacerbating existing racial disparities in healthcare, Blanchard says. She also speculates that the District’s data may not reflect the true number of COVID-19 cases right now, particularly among residents of color. The number of cases “may actually be underreported because people of color tend to live in places with lower access to care … and testing,” she explains.
Still, racial breakdowns of coronavirus data could help the federal government and local ones better understand the disease’s spread and craft more targeted responses. Based on ethnicity, 11 percent of D.C.’s positive COVID-19 cases as of April 7 involved Hispanic or Latinx residents, 48 percent involved non-Hispanic or non-Latinx residents, and 41 percent involved those whose ethnicity was unknown.
Elsewhere in the region, Virginia also is providing data on the outbreak along racial and ethnic lines. Twenty-five percent of its positive COVID-19 cases are of white residents and 14 percent are of black residents, according to the commonwealth’s most recent numbers. (For 54 percent of cases, the patients’ race isn’t currently known.) Virginia’s population is about 70 percent white and 20 percent black, say estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
And on Thursday, Maryland followed D.C.’s and Virginia’s heels in releasing race-based coronavirus data, after a pledge to do so by Gov. Larry Hogan earlier in the week. Black residents make up 37 percent of the state’s positive COVID-19 cases, while 28 percent involve white residents, according to the data (the patient’s race is marked as unavailable in about a quarter of the cases). Currently, about 44 percent of the known deaths are of black residents. Maryland’s population is approximately 31 percent black and 59 percent white.
What will happen at the federal level remains to be seen. In recent days, civil rights groups, local New York City officials, and some members of Congress (including former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren) have called for the Trump administration and other localities to produce data about the racial backgrounds of COVID-19 patients.
This post was updated on April 9 with Maryland’s figures.