Health Report: COVID-19 impact on Black Americans

Health Reports

Since the COVID-19 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.

As the number of COVID-19 patients continues to tick upwards, experts say it’s clear the virus is taking a toll on Black Americans.

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

Dr. Milam detailed COVID-19 disparities in a newly published article in the journal “Health Equity.”

For example, Dr. Milam says in Michigan alone, African-Americans are 14% of the population, but account for more than 40% of COVID-19 deaths. One reason for the disparity is that 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.” Dr. Milam said.

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

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

But Noble Maseru says that pre-existing social conditions do contribute to COVID-19. 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 work force, and so they’re additionally exposing themselves and they’re already more vulnerable.” Maseru said.

In the short term, Maseru advocates more testing and contact tracing in underserved communities. Long term? Some 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.” Dr. Milam said.

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