Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Black Americans are Dying at Disproportionately High Rates in the Coronavirus Outbreak

A woman waits at a bus station on 125th Street in Harlem, April 4, 2020. Photo by Thomas Hengge

Black Americans can’t seem to catch a break. 

Already living in communities disproportionately burdened by chronic poverty, high rates of underlying medical conditions, coupled with poor access to quality healthcare, the coronavirus crisis now suddenly adds a whole new layer of suffering to the black US population.

All across the country – in the dense urban areas of Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, New York – emerging data show an alarming trend: Blacks are dying at rates of up to 3,4, 5 or 6 times that of other races.

Black people are not inherently susceptible to the Covid-19 disease itself.  Systemic inequalities resulting from ongoing racism are the true culprits here. Living in a society where the status quo has relegated generations of blacks to substandard housing, especially in large metro areas – cramped, poorly maintained, children growing up with asthma – and neighborhoods devoid of healthy choices in food and education, create the perfect storm of vulnerable: unhealthy, underemployed and disconnected from mainstream advantages. This is where the coronavirus has landed.

President Donald Trump and his coronavirus task force are taking notice.

“Why is it three or four times more so for the black community as opposed to other people?” Trump asked at a recent White House briefing. 

The incoming data showing the virus’ especially devastating impact on black communities was “troublesome”, President Trump said, and “doesn’t make sense”. He said the task force is studying the data further to come up with appropriate recommendations.

A person walks along a virtually empty 2nd ave in the East Village. Photo by Thomas Hengge

The preliminary findings seem to make more sense to the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, however.

“Health disparities have always existed for the African American community,” Fauci said, speaking at a White House press briefing. “With the crisis, it’s shining a bright light on how unacceptable that is. They are suffering disproportionately.”

The coronavirus disease, Covid-19, attacks the upper respiratory tract of potential hosts, causing only mild flu-like symptoms in most individuals, but often proving deadly to the elderly and those with underlying, chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease. 

A large number of African Americans fall into the latter group. The death rates keep outpacing the rest of the population.

“It’s not that [blacks] are getting infected more often,” Dr. Fauci said. “It’s that when they do get infected, their underlying medical conditions – the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma – those are the kind of things that wind them up in the ICU and ultimately give them a higher death rate.”

As of  today, the world-wide pandemic has infected over 1.9 million people, with close to 120,000 lives lost. Within the US, the number of positive cases was at 587,357, with the virus  snatching over 23,649 lives on its relentless, destructive path. 

In New York, the state currently with the highest number of confirmed infections of 195,031, the death toll stands at 10,056 victims.

The New York Department of Health on Wednesday released its first breakdown of fatalities of the disease based on race and ethnicity. The data shows blacks and Hispanics dying at the highest rates. 

People wait on line for Whole Foods, April 4, 2020. Photo by Thomas Hengge

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, along with Brooklyn’s Borough President Eric Adams, have joined the chorus of voices demanding more stringent study of the virus’ impact on communities of color and immediate remedies to mitigate the disproportionate trajectory.

Echoing the observation that untreated chronic health problems predisposes communities of color to suffer more fatalities from the virus than other ethnicities, governor Cuomo added that this population was also dominated by people who work on the front lines who are unable to work from home. 

They don’t have a choice but “to go out there everyday and drive the bus and drive the train and show up for work and wind up subjecting themselves to, in this case, the virus,” Cuomo said. 

While the governor has ordered more testing to immediately take place in black and Hispanic communities to identify, and attempt to slow the spread of the virus, transit workers in New York are dying and being sickened at escalating rates.

A worker waits for the downtown 6 train at 14th Street Union Square. Photo by Thomas Hengge

To date, 50 Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) workers – mostly subway workers – have died from coronavirus. Throughout the MTA system – NYC subway and bus transit system with its large minority workforce, Metro North and the Long Island Railroad – about 1900 more workers have tested positive with 5,200 in quarantine. 

“Racial disparity has never been more evident,” says Eric Adams. “The subways are filled with black and brown people” going to “essential jobs” in transportation, food service, hospitality and retail. Many without the necessary protective equipment to work safely or financial means to stop working and shelter-at-home.

Speaking at a recent press conference, Mayor de Blasio said the economic and health disparity in poorer communities of color was nothing new. 

“The disparities that have plagued this city, this nation, that are all about fundamental inequality, are once again causing such pain, and causing innocent people to lose their lives,” he said. “It’s sick. It’s troubling. It’s wrong. And we’re going to fight back with everything we got [to right the inequities].”

In Louisiana, governor John Bel Edwards, said the data coming in shows that 70 percent of the deaths statewide were of African Americans who were only 32 percent of the population.

CNN commentator Van Jones commented on the New Orleans rapid spread and the role early misinformation and inconsistent official information played to further compounded the Covid-19 challenges in black neighborhoods.

“We got off on the wrong foot here,” Jones said. “From a media point of view, and from a community point of view. Everybody started saying, in the black community, ‘this is a white folks’ thing. In fact, a rumor got started that black people were literally immune to this disease. That was all over the Internet – started off as a joke – people took it seriously.”

Jones appealed to the black community and anyone who had friends and family who were not properly informed, to recognize the seriousness of the crisis and to follow the social-distancing guidelines and other mandates from local and federal governments. 

People wait on line to enter the Dollar Tree in Harlem, April 4, 2020. Photo by Thomas Hengge

Producer, writer and actor, Tyler Perry, speaking at a recent CBS interview, also spoke of early disinformation circulating online that the disease was not an issue black people should be concerned about. 

Perry said he saw “too many things online saying, ‘oh, we don’t get this,’ or ‘Black people don’t travel abroad, so it’s not going to come to our community’.” But “that is a ridiculous thought,” he said. “It is coming to-it has come to our community, and it’s devastating us in disproportionate numbers.”

In Chicago and Detroit, now seeing rapid spikes  in coronavirus infections, the trend continues: blacks being the minority in the state, but the cities grappling with their skyrocketing, death tolls that could rise as high as 8 times that of the other residents.

African Americans make up about 14 percent of Michigan’s population, one third of its confirmed cases and 40 percent of its deaths. The city of Detroit makes up 75 percent of coronavirus deaths.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said statistics showing blacks in Chicago dying at almost 6 times the rate of other racial groups just “takes your breath away”.

Lightfoot said the numbers were the most “shocking things” she has seen as a mayor. 

Dr. Fauci said “when this is over, there will still be health disparities” that “really need to be addressed in the African American community.”

 


Tags


Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020

COVID-19 hampers Fashion Week for photographers

Daniel Karel September 18, 2020

On the heels of revelation that Trump downplayed the covid threat, voters question rallies resuming

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 16, 2020

Overburdened mothers in Pakistan are relieved as schools reopens

Quratulain Tejani September 13, 2020

Students from different parts of the world struggle as schools reopen during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang September 12, 2020

Special needs students face learning obstacles during Covid-19

Courtney Guarino September 12, 2020

Back to school – COVID-19 style 

Isabel Beer September 12, 2020

The new normal for school life is abnormal in Michigan

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 11, 2020

California School District Parents and Teachers Clash About Return to School

Norah Hogan September 10, 2020

A tribute to the mask pioneers

Bohao Liu July 11, 2020

Air pollution in China rebounds to pre-COVID level

Hannah Zhang July 11, 2020

ICE takes aim at international students

Maria Abreu July 10, 2020

Chinese students trapped by new ICE policy

Zishu Sherry Qin July 10, 2020

New ICE policy adds more turmoil to the lives of international students

Shiyu Xu July 10, 2020

Lawsuits follow ICE policy barring international students who are taking online classes

Joanna Lin Su July 10, 2020

Economists say the US needs a bold, generous fiscal response. Congress is likely to disappoint. 

Ahmed Mohamed July 9, 2020

Overseas Singaporeans have pandemic obstacles to voting

Yifan Yu July 9, 2020

Proximity sensors and hygiene stations are the “new normal”

Joanna Lin Su July 9, 2020

 Tour ticket vendors miss the hustle and bustle of Times Square

Narkwor Kwabla July 8, 2020

Dengue outbreak could be a greater threat than covid in Singapore

Yifan Yu July 8, 2020

Corporate bankruptcy: ‘A story that’s not going away’

Gaurav Sharma July 7, 2020

Beijing reopens as the second wave of coronavirus dies down

Hannah Zhang July 6, 2020

Masks or no masks?

Bohao Liu July 5, 2020

Varsity Flu

Madeline Gunderson July 3, 2020

Rail travel in China is popular during the pandemic and filled with safety measures

Bohao Liu July 3, 2020

Brazilian international student caught in US travel ban.

Marina Guimaraes July 3, 2020

MTA faces crisis following COVID shutdown

Daniel Girma July 2, 2020

Easter Market goes back to its roots

Kyla Milberger July 2, 2020

China’s Airline Industry Aims to Lure Back Passengers with Unlimited Flight Pass

Zishu Sherry Qin July 1, 2020

US corporate debt soars during coronavirus outbreak

Gaurav Sharma June 30, 2020

In Singapore, gay pride goes online

Yifan Yu June 29, 2020

The Hair Room reopens

Shiyu Xu June 29, 2020