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Why the Virus Is Disproportionately Affecting African American Communities


The coronavirus outbreak is shining a spotlight on certain health disparities across the country, particularly why the virus tends to disproportionately affect African Americans. As you probably already know, patients with preexisting conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, tend to be most vulnerable to the virus. Unfortunately, African Americans tend to have higher rates of chronic conditions than white Americans, which means black patients infected with the virus may be more likely to wind up in the ICU than white patients infected with the virus.

When addressing the issue at a recent press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Health and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force called the situation “unacceptable.” The outbreak is reminding the healthcare industry that African Americans often lack access to the services they need to stay healthy, such as regular check-ups, preventative care, and the latest treatment methods and procedures.

Take a closer look at this alarming disparity and how the African American community is responding to the outbreak.

How the Virus is Affecting the Black Community

Across major U.S. cities, the virus is wreaking havoc on African American communities. Recent statistics show black people represent a disproportionate share of coronavirus patients.

In Chicago, 72% of those who have died from the virus are black, while African Americans make up just 30% of the local population. Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently commented, “This new data offers a deeply concerning glimpse into the spread of COVID-19 and is a stark reminder of the deep-seated issues which have long created disparate health impacts in communities across Chicago.”

In Louisiana and New Orleans, 70% of those who have died from the virus are black, but African Americans make up just 32% of the population. In Michigan, black people account for 14% of the state’s population, but they represent around 40% of fatalities from the virus in the state.

However, it’s important to note that black people are not more likely to get the virus, but if they do get infected, there’s a higher chance that they will either wind up in the ICU or pass away due to coronavirus-related complications. Dr. Fauci has been quick to point out that African Americans tend to have the kinds of conditions that can exacerbate symptoms of COVID-19. He says death rates and intensive-care intubations were higher among African Americans due to a greater prevalence of “underlying medical conditions – the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma.”

According to the CDC, hypertension, or high blood pressure, is more common among non-Hispanic black adults (54%) than non-Hispanic white adults (46%), non-Hispanic Asian adults (39%), or Hispanic adults (36%).

The agency also notes 11.2% of non-Hispanic black adults and 7.7% of non-Hispanic white adults suffer from asthma. The American Diabetes Association says around 11.7% of non-Hispanic blacks suffer from diabetes, compared to 7.5% of non-Hispanic whites.

Facing Discrimination Amid a Public Health Crisis

As the country continues to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, all U.S. citizens are being urged to wear some kind of covering over their face when they go outside to limit the spread of infection. However, wearing a face mask can be an issue for some African Americans. Many individuals have expressed concerns over wearing these coverings in public, fearing discrimination and racial profiling.

At a Walmart in Wood River, Ill, two black men said they were harassed by a police officer and asked to leave the store for wearing face masks. The Washington Post recently interviewed Kip Diggs in Nashville to see how he was adjusting to the situation. Diggs says, “As an African American man, I have to be cognizant of the things I do and where I go, so appearances matter. I have pink, lime green, Carolina blue so I don’t look menacing. I want to take a lot of that stigma and risk out as best I can.”

Some African Americans are choosing to forgo facial coverings to avoid being harassed or racially profiled in public, and some health officials are worried this could further accelerate the outbreak among the black community.

Looking at the Larger Picture

While the U.S. healthcare industry is mainly focused on containing the pandemic, Dr. Fauci and other health professionals want these issues to be investigated as soon as things return to normal. Several civil rights groups are also asking the federal government to release more detailed information regarding how the pandemic is playing out among different racial and ethnic groups.

To eliminate these health disparities and improve the health of the black community, the CDC wants healthcare providers to pay closer attention to the rates of chronic conditions among the African American community. The agency is urging providers to ramp up testing and preventative care for African Americans in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, so these conditions can be prevented or diagnosed as early as possible.

The agency also wants public health professionals to reduce disparities and barriers when it comes to accessing healthcare using proven methods, such as better outreach, a more nuanced understanding of the community’s need, and incorporating health into community events and programs. Health professionals can work with faith and community organizers to better align their goals with those of the local community.

Providers should also work on linking local individuals to healthcare facilities and resources to increase the rate of regular check-ups. Facilities should also better train their staff members, so they better understand certain cultural differences and how these patients interact with the healthcare system.

The coronavirus is shaping our understanding of certain health disparities across the country. Keep these ideas in mind as you help your community respond to the pandemic.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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