The early data emerging from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States has laid bare the disparities many public-health specialists are all too familiar with: Racial minorities are disproportionately affected by health crises such as this one. And in the case of COVID-19, more of them have died.
Earlier this week, officials in Chicago, Illinois were among the first to release a racial breakdown of the city’s 6,100 cases. More than half were African American, despite only the group only accounting for 30 percent of the city’s 2.7 million residents. Seven in 10 patients who died from COVID-19 in the city were African American, officials said.
Similar statistics were seen elsewhere in the US. In Louisiana, where 32 percent of the population is African American, that group accounted for 70 percent of COVID-19-related deaths. In Michigan, 40 percent of those who died were African American even though the group accounts for 13 percent of the population statewide. In both states, the largest and predominantly black cities – Detroit and New Orleans – were hardest hit.
In New York, the epicentre of the pandemic in the US, the coronavirus is killing African Americans and Hispanics at twice the rate of white people, according to preliminary state data.
The alarming trends follow a long history of racism and inequality that have disproportionately affected African Americans. They suffer from high rates of obesity, diabetes and asthma – underlying health conditions that put people at greater risk for complications from COVID-19, which is compounded by a lack of economic opportunities and access to adequate healthcare.
“We’ve been working extremely hard to address these historical disparities,” said Brian Bragg, vice president for behavioural health and community integration at ACCESS Community Health Network, whose chain of health centres cover some of Chicago’s poorest neighbourhoods.
“With the pandemic this is yet another aspect to health disparity that has been made visible, as the burden of death is borne more heavily by the black and brown communities,” Bragg told Al Jazeera.