The Guardian’s Kenya Evelyn reports on how coronavirus is disproportionately affecting African Americans:
The disparity is especially stark in cities like New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit, where high concentrations of African Americans live.
Louisiana has the fourth largest number of Covid-19 cases in the country, and the majority of the Covid-19 deaths are in New Orleans, where black Americans constitute 60% of the population. “Slightly more than 70% of [coronavirus] deaths in Louisiana are African Americans,” the state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, said in a press conference on Monday. “That deserves more attention and we’re going to have to dig into that to see what we can do to slow that down.”
African Americans face a higher risk of exposure to the virus, mostly on account of concentrating in urban areas and working in essential industries. Only 20% of black workers reported being eligible to work from home, compared with about 30% of their white counterparts, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Experts also point to initial research showing a high prevalence of Covid-19 among those suffering from obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – risk factors more common among black Americans. The virus is known to take a harsher toll on those with underlying health issues, and many hospitals are only testing those admitted for critical care.
Critics note that those risks are significantly exacerbated by racial inequities in healthcare, including facility closures and caps on public health insurance plans like Medicaid and Medicare. African Americans are twice as likely to lack health insurance compared with their white counterparts, and more likely to live in medically underserved areas, where primary care is sparse or expensive.
Unconscious racial bias can also contribute to unequal health outcomes, especially when health professionals are inexperienced with the culture of the community they serve, according to the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Governor JB Pritkzer of Illinois acknowledged racism’s role in the state’s response to the outbreak, but he called it “a much broader problem” that won’t be solved in a matter of weeks. “It’s hard to make up for decades, maybe centuries, of inequality of application of healthcare to people of color,” he said.