As a clearer picture emerges from the decidedly lethal toll of COVID-19 on black Americans, leaders are demanding a computation of systemic policies that they believe have made many African Americans much more vulnerable to the virus, including inequality in access to health care and economic opportunities.
A growing choir of health care professionals, activists and politicians is pressuring the federal government to not only publish comprehensive racial demographics of the country’s coronavirus victims, but also to define clear strategies to mitigate the devastation of African Americans and other communities of color.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their first breakdown of COVID-19 case data by race, showing that 30% of patients with known race were black. Federal data, however, lacked race information for 75% of all cases and did not include a demographic breakdown of the deaths.
The latest analysis from the Associated Press on available local and national data shows that nearly one-third of those killed are African-American, with blacks accounting for about 14% of the population in the areas covered by the analysis.
Almost half of the states, accounting for less than one-fifth of COVID-19 deaths in the country, have yet to release demographic data on the deaths. In the states that have done so, about a quarter of death certificates lack racial details.
The health conditions that exist at higher rates in the black community – obesity, diabetes and asthma – make African Americans more susceptible to the virus. They are also more likely to be uninsured and often report that healthcare professionals take their illnesses less seriously when seeking treatment.
“This is America’s unfinished business – we are free, but not equal,” said Reverend Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader. “There is a reality check brought in by the coronavirus, which reveals weakness and expediency. “
This week, the Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the National Medical Association, a group representing African American doctors and patients, released a joint public health strategy calling for better COVID-19 testing and treatment data. The groups also urged officials to provide better protections for incarcerated populations and to recruit more African Americans into the medical field.
Jackson also expressed support for a national commission to study the COVID-19 black toll along the lines of the Kerner Commission, which studied the root causes of racial riots in African American communities in the 1960s and made recommendations policies to avoid future unrest.
Daniel Dawes, director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse College’s medical school, said that the history of segregation and American politics has led to the racial disparities in health that exist today.
“If we do not take into account the historical context and the political determinants, we will only nibble on the contours of the problem of inequalities,” he said.
The publication of demographic data on the country’s coronavirus victims remains a priority for many civil rights and public health advocates, who argue that the numbers are needed to bridge the disparities in the national response to the pandemic.
AP analysis, based on data until Thursday, found that of more than 21,500 victims whose demographics were known and disclosed by officials, more than 6,350 were black, a rate close to 30%. African Americans make up 14.2% of the 241 million people who live in the areas covered by the analysis, which includes 24 states and the cities of Washington DC, Houston, Memphis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – places where data at the statewide were not available.
The nation recorded more than 33,000 deaths on Thursday.
In some regions, Native American communities have also been hit hard. In New Mexico, Native Americans make up almost 37% of the state’s 1,484 cases and about 11% of the state’s population. Of the 112 deaths of known race in Arizona, 30 were Native Americans.
After Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation this week to try to force federal health officials to publish daily data breaking down cases and deaths by race, ethnicity and other demographics, the CDC released only data on the number of cases which – similar to the analysis of PA deaths – show 30% of 111,633 infected patients of known race were black. African American patients in the 45 to 64 and 65 to 74 age groups accounted for an even larger share of the national workload.
Last month, lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Social Services, Alex Azar, asking the federal government to release the demographics. And Joe Biden, the former vice-president and presumed democratic presidential candidate, also called for his release.
Meanwhile, some black leaders have described the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 as inadequate, after what they said was a hastily organized call with vice president Mike Pence and director of the CDC, Robert Redfield last week.
According to a recording of the call obtained by the AP, Redfield said that the CDC had collected demographic data from death certificates, but that the completeness of the data depends on local and state health services, including many are overloaded with the viral response. No plans have been made to help health officials in hard-hit communities collect the data, said the leaders who were on the call.
Kristen Clarke, Chair of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who participated in the appeal, said that African Americans “have every reason to be alarmed by the administration’s anemic response to the impact disproportionate that this crisis has on communities of color. . ”
There is deep distrust among residents of many communities.
St. Louis resident Randy Barnes is dealing not only with the emotional consequences of losing his brother to the coronavirus, but also with the feeling that his brother’s case was not taken seriously.
Barnes said the hospital where his brother sought treatment first sent him home without testing and suggested that he quarantine himself for 14 days. Five days later, his brother returned to the hospital, where he was placed on a ventilator for two weeks. He died on April 13. Barnes’ brother and his wife were also caring for an 88-year-old man in the same apartment, who died around the same time.
“These people are not tested. They are not supported, “said Barnes.
Eugene Rush lives in one of the areas outside of major urban cities that have been hit hard by coronavirus cases. He is a sergeant for the sheriff’s department in Washtenaw County, Michigan, west of Detroit, where black residents account for 46% of COVID-19 cases but represent only 12% of the county’s population.
Rush, whose work includes community engagement, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late March after what he initially thought was just a sinus infection. He had to be hospitalized twice, but is now recovering at home with his 16-year-old son, who was also diagnosed with COVID-19.
“I had a former lieutenant in the city of Ypsilanti who died while I was in hospital and I had brotherhood brothers who caught the virus and were sick in hospital,” said Rush. . “At that time, I said, ‘Well, it really, really affects a lot of people,’ and they were mostly African-Americans. This is how I knew it really took a toll a little deeper in the African American community than I thought. “
Stafford and Morrison are members of the PA Race and Ethnicity team. Stafford reports from Detroit, Morrison from New York and Hoyer from Washington. Associated Press writers Noreen Nasir in Chicago, Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia, Regina Garcia Cano in Washington, Chris Grygiel in Seattle and Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed.
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