African Americans appear to be contracting, dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rate

Wednesday, April 8, 2020
African Americans appear to be contracting COVID-19 at higher rate
African Americans appear to be contracting and dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than white Americans.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- African Americans appear to be contracting and dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than white Americans.

In North Carolina, African Americans make up 22 percent of the population, but so far 38 percent of the people who have tested positive for the virus are black.

The disproportionate numbers are not exclusive to North Carolina.

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Cities with large black populations like New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans have emerged as hot spots for the coronavirus. Figures released by Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services show 40 percent of those who have died from COVID-19 are black in a state where African-Americans are just 14 percent of the population.

In Chicago, black residents accounted for 72 percent of deaths from COVID-19 complications and 52 percent of positive tests for the coronavirus, despite making up only 30 percent of the city's population, according to the city's public health agency.

And many Southern states with large black populations have been slow to mandate statewide restrictions shown to slow virus spread.

Click here for the latest on the coronavirus pandemic in North Carolina

"Equal access to healthcare is a critical civil rights issue, and during this novel pandemic, the public deserves nothing less than full transparency from this administration and state public health officials," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement to the Associated Press Monday.

In truth, this type of health disparity is not even exclusive to this virus.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, black adults are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes, 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure and are less likely to have those conditions under control.

Joanne Pierce is the general manager for Durham County's health and well-being initiative, and was previously a state leader on minority health. She tells ABC11 the disparity likely stems from years of racist federal, state and local policies and practices dating back to slavery and Jim Crow.

"There's some real things that we can do to change the trajectory of disproportionality and disparities that we see across all of systems without exception," Pierce said. "Really taking a systems approach and not just trying to resolve what we see. Look at how our institutions are structured what barriers are we creating--although that may not be our intent--what barriers are we creating that would keep people from having the best outcomes, and when we fix those things, we fix them for everyone."

However, like many things related to COVID-19, opinions are varied. The virus is so young and testing is so spotty, it's hard to determine how much stake should be put in the current data that is available.

ABC News Contributor Dr. Jen Ashton said there remains no consensus on what is behind the racial disparity being seen across the country with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We don't know," Dr. Ashton said. "We have seen other diseases hit different racial or ethnic groups differently and we may be seeing that with Coronavirus as well."

ABC News' Dr. Jen Ashton talks about what we know about the new coronavirus and who it is affecting most severely.

ABC News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.