The Covid Death Rate in Majority-Black Counties Is Getting Worse

If you’re Black in America, Covid-19 is more likely to kill you, and the disparity has only widened as cases have surged across the U.S.

In counties where the majority of residents are Black, the death rate has climbed to 3.5 times the national average, up from roughly three times as high in May, an ongoing analysis of Johns Hopkins University and Census Bureau data by Bloomberg News finds. In places where African Americans exceed 13.4% of the population, the proportion they make up of the U.S., the death rate is double the national average, also a slight uptick from two months ago.

Since as early as April, public health experts and lawmakers have pushed the federal government to release more data and work to reduce the disparities. Absent national figures, the picture of racial health outcomes in the U.S. is still incomplete. What statistics exist have continued to show Black Americans bear the brunt of the virus. But with imperfect information, officials can’t properly deploy resources or develop plans to tackle the issue. Four months into the pandemic, the problem appears to be getting worse.

Study after study of available information points to the same grim reality. In places with more than 100 deaths, Black Americans have made up 23% of them, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost twice their share of the national population. Federal statistics on 1.5 million coronavirus patients obtained by the New York Times showed that Black and Latino people who contract the virus are twice as likely to die. Even these statistics have gaps, with demographic information missing from hundreds of thousands of people.

The disproportionate toll persists even when accounting for age, pre-existing health conditions, geography, occupational exposure and housing conditions, Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute has found. “These starkly different numbers for African Americans would withstand every empirical argument you can make. You cannot explain this away,” he said. “It’s acting as an expression of a whole set of cumulative disadvantages faced by Black Americans.”

The Bloomberg analysis of more than 3,100 U.S. counties can only infer the deadliness of the virus among Black Americans. In our data set, which covers all deaths from March 23 to July 10, the race of those dying is unknown. In many cases, race and other demographic information is not being collected or released.

Minority communities and cities with large Black populations, like New York City, New Orleans and Detroit were some of the earliest hotspots. But as the virus has spread elsewhere, the disparities remain. The CDC data published by the New York Times showed Black people dying at higher rates across state lines and in areas rural, urban and suburban.

There are many theories, but no single explanation, for the racial inequalities. The coronavirus is at its most deadly when the victim also has pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes or hypertension, diseases that disproportionately afflict Black Americans. People of color also face bias from health-care providers and are less likely to have health insurance. Minorities in the U.S. can also have weakened immune systems because of the stress of poverty, crime, crowded living conditions, sleeplessness and other factors, Arline Geronimus, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan has found.

“There’s all these attempts by really good social scientists, working with shoddy data, to try and figure out what is going on,” Reeves said. “We do not know very much yet, except for one thing. We do know that this is having a particularly, and devastating effect on Black Americans. It’s the one fact that shines through all of the studies so far.”

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In This Story: Covid-19

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