Is coronavirus hitting the black community harder?

State beginning to track hospitalizations by race; UF Health begins outreach

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Public health officials are expressing alarm after early data is showing that an overwhelming number of African American residents are among those dying of COVID-19.

Black residents accounted for 72% of deaths from complications of coronavirus disease in Chicago and 52% of positive tests for the coronavirus, despite blacks making up only 30% of the city’s population, according to the city’s public health agency.

Similar conditions mark other large cities with large black populations that are considered hot spots for the coronavirus, including New York, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans. Figures released Monday by Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services showed African Americans, who make up 14% of the state population, make up about 33% of cases statewide and 41% of deaths.

A new team of city and community representatives will focus on contacting residents who are older than 50 and those considered vulnerable to the virus because of other health conditions to share information about prevention and resources for those who do become ill.

A national civil rights group on Monday said that’s a problem across the country and demanded more transparency on race and ethnicity among the COVID-19 testing results, cases and patient outcomes reported by federal health authorities and state health agencies.

“Equal access to healthcare is a critical civil rights issue, and during this novel pandemic, the public deserves nothing less than full transparency from this administration and state public health officials,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.

One of the nation’s top experts on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said coronavirus is “shining a bright light” on unacceptable health disparities for African-Americans.

There’s a push for data showing the race of COVID-19 patients in Florida and a state senator is pushing for more testing in black neighborhoods.

“I asked directly to the surgeon general, then we had a conference call with the surgeon general last week asking for that information,” Gibson said.

Data released by the Florida Department of Health over the weekend shows 21% of people hospitalized with the COVID-19 in Florida are black. According to 2018 U.S. Census figures, 16% of Florida residents are listed as black or African-American.

Florida Department of Health data as of 10 a.m. Wednesday
Florida Department of Health data as of 10 a.m. Wednesday

UF Health Jacksonville began an outreach Wednesday to people who live in a public housing project in Jacksonville’s Durkeeville neighborhood lined up to be tested for COVID-19. Free testing is available to people, especially those at least 65 years of age.

“I am not that familiar with the internet,” said 83-year-old resident Suzy Henry. “So I am grateful and happy they are here today making it convenient for people like me.”

African-American and Hispanic populations typically have are higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and high-cholesterol and income disparity can result in a lower level of preventative health care.

“We haven’t quite seen what we’ve seen in Chicago, Milwaukee, in terms of a racial perspective, but that’s why we are out here, So we can learn more and hopefully put in some interventions," Dr. Leon Haley of UF Health.

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis also addressed the issue at a news briefing Wednesday.

“We’re now breaking out by race or ethnicity. (We) don’t have it for every patient, but the ones we do we’re putting it there," DeSantis said. "We’re also with the University of Florida and Shands ... a kind of an investigation into some of the public housing communities ... where they maybe not getting what they need.”

About the Authors: