Counties with higher populations of black residents accounted for 58 percent of the COVID-19 deaths nationwide

By Julie Mazziotta
May 08, 2020 01:48 PM
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A woman is tested for COVID-19 in Compton, California
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty

Black Americans are disproportionally getting infected with — and dying from — the new coronavirus, COVID-19, a new study found.

Using demographic data, researchers found that counties with higher populations of black residents accounted for 58 percent of the COVID-19 deaths nationwide.

“Roughly one in five counties nationally is disproportionately black and only represent 35 percent of the U.S. population, but we found that these counties accounted for nearly half of COVID-19 cases and 58 percent of COVID-19 deaths,” the researchers, from four universities in conjunction with the nonprofit AIDS research organization amFar and PATH’s Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, said in the study.

While the discrepancy has been anecdotally noted by mayors like Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot and several senators based on local statistics, this is one of the first large studies to look at the issue nationwide.

The study has not yet been published in a journal, but the scientists wanted to push out the information to help lawmakers better understand the need for more support in these communities. The research also echoes data from several states and cities, such as Chicago, Wisconsin and Louisiana.

“In small metro areas as well as rural areas, we're seeing disproportionately higher COVID-19 deaths taking place in primarily black counties,” Gregorio Millett, a lead investigator on the study and amFar vice president, told Politico.

The study also found that the people living in these areas were more likely to have underlying conditions that can cause severe cases of COVID-19, such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. They were also less likely to have access to consistent medical care, and more likely to have jobs considered “essential” that require them to work during the pandemic, such as nurses, grocery store clerks and bus drivers.

“We know that being uninsured and crowded living conditions are associated with increases in COVID-19 diagnoses among black Americans,” Millett said.

Black people in the U.K. are similarly affected by COVID-19. A new study found that black people are four times more likely to die of the virus than white people. And those of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and mixed ethnicities also had a "statistically significant raised risk of death,” according to the report, from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics, CNN reported.

The higher rates of death are "partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained," the study said.

Legislators in both countries are pushing for greater support and medical care for black communities. In late March, a group of Senators — including former Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — demanded that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar “monitor and address racial disparities in our nation’s response” to COVID-19.

President Trump enlisted Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to develop a plan to support minority communities who have been hurt by the virus in April, but the plan has not yet been announced.

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