Why do Black Americans Make Up a Disproportionate Number of COVID-19 Deaths?


Anjali Krishna, Contributing Writer, Dallas TX

As racial data for COVID-19 testing grows, it’s become clear that people of color are most often affected by coronavirus. African Americans account for 13.4% of the American population but counties with higher concentrations of blacks make up half of coronavirus cases and 60% of related deaths. This means that in the US, blacks are dying around 1.5 times higher than their population size would predict them to be, and in some states the disparity is even greater.


Though data is still limited, it’s clear that the number of deaths related to coronavirus in black Americans is a result of the longstanding racial inequities in provision of healthcare. Disparities in healthcare often correlate to a lack of wealth, and due to institutionalized issues, Black Americans tend to be closer to the poverty line than white Americans. This correlates with them having higher rates of underlying conditions such as diabetes and heart problems, which puts them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.


Further, a disproportionate number of black Americans are work in frontline jobs, forcing them to risk undo exposure to COVID-19 in order to receive a paycheck in contrast to white collar jobs which more commonly allow working from home.


The COVID Racial Tracking Project, a dataset that provides racially related COVID-19 information from all over the United States (North Dakota serving as the only exception) concludes whether or not there is a racial or ethnic disparity based on a couple of factors – whether disparity is at least 33% higher than the United States Census measured population for a certain racial/ethnic group and whether the disparity is evident if we include or exclude cases/deaths with unknown race/ethnicity based on at least 30 actual cases or deaths. With the data it has so far, virus and racial healthcare disparity experts have concluded that most of the 50 states have some sort of disparity, in varying amounts by state.


NPR reached the same conclusion, finding 32 states in which there were higher rates of black American deaths than warranted by population, and 21 states in which the disparity crossed 50% over expectation. In Wisconsin for example, the risk of COVID-19 death was 18 times higher for black Americans than it was for white Americans, while black Americans make up only 6% of the state’s population.


As more data is gathered, the toll on Latino Americans seems to correlate similarly to that of black Americans.   As with blacks, Latinos are often frontline workers and suffer from the same lack of healthcare access. At Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, Latino patients make up about 80% of COVID-19 cases. However, the disparity in death rates from COVID-19 in the Latino community is less evident than in the black community though, because according to the United States census, the Latino population is younger and therefore less vulnerable to develop symptoms from coronavirus, and much less likely to die from it.


However, even as data collection grows, it is nearly impossible to form full conclusions at this early stage. Some states only report racial data as black, white, and other which increases the chances that America’s smallest minority groups may be drastically misrepresented in collected data. Combined with the fact that minorities are less likely to get tested for coronavirus for financial reasons, it may take years before the virus’s impact on non-white Americans is fully understood. If the virus follows trends such as what occurred with the spread of HIV/AIDS, the effects of coronavirus in black communities could be damning.