Coronavirus Doesn’t Care About Black People

As if it didn't have enough flaws, COVID-19 is also racist. This virus isn't an “equalizer." It kills black people at a disproportionately higher rate. In Cook County, Illinois, black residents make up 23 percent of the population but account for 58 percent of coronavirus deaths. And in Chicago itself, 61 of the 86 recorded coronavirus deaths were black. That's around 70 percent and we're just 29 percent of the windy city's population.

Ninety miles away in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, black people are about half of the county's 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths. Milwaukee's population is just 26 percent black. Meanwhile, in Michigan, which does not have the best track record regarding black people's health, black people were a reported 35 percent of cases and 40 percent of deaths as of Friday. The state's population is just 14 percent black. Detroit, which is majority black, has emerged as a COVID-19 “hot spot" with 47 percent of Michigan's total cases. Forty percent of Louisiana's deaths have taken place in Orleans Parish, where most residents are black.

COVID-19 infections and deaths are skyrocketing in Alabama, which is about 26 percent black. Former blackface minstrel star Gov. Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order this weekend. Ivey didn't hesitate to sign restrictive anti-abortion legislation, but now, on her watch, Alabama is on track to have the highest per capita death rate in the US, and the fourth highest total death count. The latter projection is chilling: Alabama's population is roughly half of New York City. It's only the 24th most populated state.

Although the pattern is obvious, few areas are releasing statistics on COVID-19 cases by race. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been mum's the word on COVID patients' racial data, which is a departure from its typical procedure when tracking virulent outbreaks. Last week, Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley, Kamala Harris, Robin Kelly, and Cory Booker wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and demanded the federal government collect and release racial and ethnic data on COVID patients.

Without demographic data on the race and ethnicity of patients being tested, the rate of positive test results, and outcomes for those with COVID-19, it will be impossible for practitioners and policy makers to address disparities in health outcomes and inequities in access to testing and treatment as they emerge. This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities. It will also hamper the efforts of public health officials to track and contain the novel coronavirus in the areas that are at the highest risk of continued spread.

Black folks aren't big Fox News viewers so are less likely to dismiss the coronavirus as a “Democrat hoax." Although some fools shared an article on Facebook that claimed black people might be immune to the coronavirus because of “melanin." C'mon, black might not crack, but we're not Superman. If anything, we are more susceptible for a variety of unfortunate environmental, economic, and health factors.

Black people are at a higher risk for chronic ailments that weaken our lungs and immune systems. This includes asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Whenever I fill out medical history forms at the doctor's office, I invariably write down either “mother, father, grandparent" next to one of those.

There are also environmental and economic issues at play. About 70 percent of Blacks and Latinos live in cities or inner suburbs. Minorities also disproportionately use public transportation, where high viral loads of the coronavirus can be transmitted. In urban areas, 34 percent of black people and 27 percent of Hispanic people report using public transportation regularly compared to just 14 percent of white people.

But before Donald Trump decides to round us all up, ship us back to Africa, and reopen the economy, we should stress that black people aren't Typhoid Malias. There was just one confirmed coronavirus case in Wisconsin at the start of March. State public health officials considered the overall risk “low." Milwaukee had its first case two weeks later. The so-called “patient zero" had come in contact with an infected person from "a neighboring, predominately white and affluent suburb." There's a lot of commuting in and out of Milwaukee, with folks making almost 180-mile round trips into Chicago. It wasn't long before cases climbed exponentially in the city and most of the afflicted were black.

From ProPublica:

"COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation," said [Dr. Camara Jones], who spent 13 years at the CDC, focused on identifying, measuring and addressing racial bias within the medical system. "This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance. … It's because we're not valued."

Minorities are used to being on our own in America. As the country's war against COVID wages, we need to do what we can to stay safe: Wash our hands, wear a mask, stay home if at all possible, and don't touch our faces. The melanin won't save us.

[WBEZ / ProPublica]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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