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Black Americans face alarming coronavirus infection rates in some states

In Louisiana, one of the states most devastated by the corona virus, about 70 percent of the deceased are African-American, officials said on Monday, although only a third of the state’s population is black.

In the county around Milwaukee, where 27 percent of the population is black, almost twice as many African Americans have tested positive for the virus as white people, as the numbers released this week show.

And in Chicago, where Afro-American residents make up a little less than a third of the population, more than half of those who have been diagnosed with the virus are black. The death toll there is even more alarming: African Americans make up 72 percent of those who succumbed to the virus in Chicago.

“These numbers take your breath away, they really do,” said Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Chicago, who released the city’s numbers on Monday. “This is a call to action for all of us.”

Ms. Lightfoot, the first black woman to be elected mayor of the city, said in an interview that the statistics “are among the most shocking things I’ve seen as a mayor.”

Data on the race of Americans afflicted by the coronavirus have been published in only a few places and are currently too limited, experts say, to draw comprehensive conclusions about the national or long-term picture. However, emerging statistics show that black residents in some of the country’s largest cities and states are infected with worrying rates every day.

The race differences in coronavirus cases and outcomes, according to public health researchers, reflect what happens when a virus pandemic is overlaid on firmly rooted inequalities.

The data that appears in some places is partly explained by factors that could make black Americans more vulnerable to any outbreak: they are less insured, more likely to have health conditions, and are more likely to refuse testing and treatment due to implicit racial bias. And then, according to the researchers, there is the highly contagious nature of the corona virus in a society in which black Americans do disproportionate jobs that do not allow them to stay at home.

“When you go outside and see who’s still working,” the data doesn’t seem surprising, “said Elaine Nsoesie, an infectious disease modeler at the School of Public Health at Boston University.”

States such as North Carolina and South Carolina have reported that black residents make up a higher proportion of positive coronavirus tests compared to white people than they do in the general population. Black people are overrepresented compared to whites among those infected in the Las Vegas region and among those who tested positive for the virus in Connecticut. In Minnesota, African Americans were infected with the corona virus at a rate roughly equal to their share of the state’s population.

Nevertheless, the data show a considerable restriction in many places. Officials report race data for cases where the patient’s race is known. Racist information is not available for a large percentage of all cases in these locations – sometimes more than 40 percent.

And officials in many states, including those severely affected by the pandemic – California, New Jersey, New York, and Washington – have not provided nationwide information about the race of patients.

“Despite the clear vulnerability of black people to this public health emergency, there is no comprehensive demographic data on the racial and ethnic characteristics of people being tested or treated for Covid-19,” wrote the Democratic Senators in their letter by the Coronavirus caused disease.

With regard to the places where breed data were collected and published, some experts pointed to long-standing structural inequalities as possible explanations for the differences.

Sharrelle Barber, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University, said that redlining government policies from the 1930s left black people without jobs, stable housing, healthy food groceries, and more in many neighborhoods. This has led to disproportionate rates of asthma and diabetes, as well as residents who cannot simply stay in their homes and outside of work.

“These communities are structurally breeding grounds for the transmission of the disease,” she said. “It is not organic. It is really these existing structural inequalities that will shape racial inequalities in this pandemic.”

Before the pandemic, officials had calculated that white Chicagoans had an average life expectancy of 8.8 years longer than black residents.

“Systemic and institutional racism that has caused these inequalities over the years are now playing out in Covid data,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, director of the city’s health department.

On Monday, officials said they would order health care providers to provide complete demographic information about all coronavirus patients so that Chicago could use “racial inequality teams” to monitor symptoms, offer tests, and help enforce social distance in places like grocery stores. It was also planned to offer additional buses on heavily used routes so that commuters could have a greater distance between them.

In Detroit, Rev. Larry Simmons said, “We see what we always see: there is fundamental inequality in America, and this corona crisis has just revealed it.”

The reporting was contributed by Audra D.S. Burch, Amy Harmon, Mitch Smith and Matt Furber.

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