About 70% of people who die from coronaviruses in Louisiana are black, a striking disparity for a state where African Americans represent only 32% of the population that experts attribute to well-established racial cleavages around economic opportunities and access. health care.
Governor John Bel Edwards shared data at a press conference on Monday to discuss state progress in fighting COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of 512 people in Louisiana since the first case was first reported. identified in the New Orleans area in early March.
The disproportionate impact of the virus, although enormous, is comparable to other parts of the United States that report data on coronaviruses by breed. Edwards said he was troubled by the gulf and his administration was looking for ways to fix it.
“Obviously this is a big disparity and we will try to figure out what this is due to and what we can do about it as quickly as possible,” said Edwards.
Advocates welcomed the decision to release the information, saying it would help the public better understand the pandemic and how it was spreading in different communities.
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“I am pleased that the governor decided to release this data because it is a conversation that has been going on for some time now,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, in an interview. “There is a need to help us understand what happened here. “
For weeks, the state has published data on the prevalence of pre-existing health conditions among those who die from COVID-19. These figures show that very few deaths had any underlying conditions, and some had more than one. In Louisiana, two-thirds of those who died from coronavirus also had hypertension, almost half had diabetes, and one in four was obese or had chronic kidney disease.
Alex Billioux, deputy secretary of the state’s public health bureau, said there were “significant” disparities between white and black Louisiana people.
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“So if you go from a situation like a state where you have significant health disparities and you put something like that in addition, it’s sad, but it doesn’t surprise me that unfortunately we see that the community be so dramatically affected, “said Billioux.
Several experts have said that the prevalence of chronic health problems among blacks is clear evidence of the persistent structural racism in the delivery of health care.
“These differences are produced by politics, not physiology,” said Amy Lesen, associate professor and researcher at Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center at Dillard University. “They are based on race and class bias in the health system, access to health care and preventive care. “
While Louisiana health officials have yet to release data on infection rates by breed, U.S. representative Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said Monday that health officials in Louisiana ‘State had shared some of this data with it. It shows that the rates of known coronavirus cases among blacks were almost as disproportionate as the death rates, he said.
Richmond said he believed economic and cultural factors may have made it more difficult for African-Americans to self-isolate quickly as the pandemic sets in.
“If people were to go to work, they might have just dropped the kids with the grandparents, you know?” Said Richmond.
Dr. Camara Jones, family doctor, epidemiologist and visiting researcher at Harvard University, also suspects the economic vulnerability of many blacks in Louisiana has contributed to high infection rates with a virus that “should have been an infectious ‘equal opportunities. “
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“We are seeing more infections in black communities, and it is because of the front jobs that we are unable to work from home,” said Jones. “We are also biologically sensitive, but we are not also socially sensitive. “
As Morial says: “I think it is pretty clear that the blue collar worker is unable to do his homework. Either they will work in risky circumstances or they will be laid off. “
So far, more than half of the coronavirus deaths recorded in Louisiana have occurred in the parishes of Orleans and Jefferson, both of which have large African-American populations: New Orleans is 59% black ; Jefferson, 23%. Other parishes that were the first homes of COVID-19 are highly African American, including the parish of St. John the Baptist, which has the highest per capita mortality rate in all of the United States and is black at 58%.
Richmond said he hoped the data – and the coronavirus crisis in general – would serve as a “wake-up call” for Louisiana.
“We cannot agree with being # 1 or # 2 in obesity, poverty and being the last in health,” he said. “We have some of the most creative people in the country, great people, but we have not raised the bar in terms of health and education.”
Jones said she wants the sobering data to cause Americans to turn inward and think more about those on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.
“We have to recognize that all of these people who are advancing our society are doing something in the public interest – not just the ambulance technicians and the respiratory technicians, but the low-wage earners, the people who deliver food and keep them open grocery stores, “she said. . “All of these people must be recognized as precious and protected with PPE in the same way as people hospitalized.”