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Coronavirus deaths hitting Black Americans harder

Expert says African-Americans more likely to have underlying conditions

Coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 146,000 Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the pandemic began, public health experts say, Black Americans nationwide have died at an alarming rate -- two and a half times that of whites and Asians.

“We’ve been putting Band-Aids on a lot of these issues, but not addressing the core issues,” said Dr. Adam Milam, of Cedars-Sinai.

Milam detailed COVID disparities in a newly published article in the journal Health Equity.

For example, Milam said in Michigan alone, African-Americans are 14% of the population, but account for more than 40% of coronavirus-related deaths.

One reason for the disparity: Black Americans have a higher incidence of other health conditions.

“African-Americans have a higher prevalence of diabetes, higher prevalence of high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease -- all of those are risk factors for COVID-19 (complications,” Milam said.

Researchers said that’s just a part of a much broader picture.

“Racism is not on the death certificate,” said Dr. Noble Maseru, of the Center for Health Equity at Pitt Public Health.

But Maseru said pre-existing social conditions do contribute to COVID, including limited access to health care and affordable housing, undernutrition, low wages and economic insecurity. Many employees in service industries could not afford to stay home during the pandemic.

“They’re going out as part of that essential workforce, and so they’re additionally exposing themselves, and they’re already vulnerable,” Maseru said.

In the short-term Maseru advocates more testing and contact tracing in underserved communities. Long-term? Experts say adopting a federal living wage will help families close the health gaps.

“Now is the opportunity to address some of these issues that have been lingering for three to four decades,” Milam said.

Maseru said housing is also an issue driving COVID infection. In some minority communities, there are several generations or multiple families living in one home, making it easier for the virus to spread.