Outcry Over Racial Data Grows as Virus Slams Black Americans

By KAT STAFFORD, MEGHAN HOYER and AARON MORRISON

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.

Data collected the week of April 5. Some cases of death existed where race wasn’t known, those were left uncounted.
Source: AP reporting; American Community Survey Graphic: Meghan Hoyer & Phil Holm

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.

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