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Preliminary data shows that minority patients are disproportionately at risk of being hospitalized or dying from Covid-19. But health professionals say the numbers that have been released aren’t telling the whole story.
Gross underreporting of tests, hospitalizations and deaths related to Covid-19 has plagued racial and ethnic data at the state and federal levels. Nearly half of all states have not included any data on the race or ethnicity of those affected by the coronavirus. Figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday list the race and ethnicity of 75 percent of all cases as unspecified. None of the race and ethnicity statistics for deaths have been reported nationally.
As COVID-19 spreads across the United States, Americans can see the grim daily tallies of the cases and deaths, broken down by geography, age and sex. Only a few jurisdictions, however, are breaking down the numbers by racial and ethnic groups as well, and the story those figures tell when they’re available is disturbing.
In Michigan, for example, African Americans accounted for 33% of COVID-19 cases and 41% of deaths as of Monday, though they represent only 14% of the overall population. In Chicago, 72% of the deaths have been among the city’s black residents, though they make up 29% of the population. The numbers are almost identical in Louisiana. Shocking as these numbers are, none of this comes as a particular surprise to public health experts. African Americans are far more likely to suffer from the underlying health problems that are associated with serious and fatal COVID-19 outcomes: Black adults are nearly twice as likely as white adults to have diabetes and 40% more likely to have high blood pressure. Rates of obesity and asthma also are higher.
Because of poverty and other barriers, African Americans are less likely to have access to regular medical care. They’re more likely to live in neighborhoods where markets selling fresh, nutritious food are scarce. As a result of these factors, long before coronavirus came on the scene, black life expectancy has been several years shorter than that of the population as a whole.