Coronavirus disproportionately hitting blacks and Latinos
Poverty, underlying health status seen contributing to high disease burden
IT IS BOTH A shocking but also utterly predictable new chapter in the unfolding coronavirus saga. The pandemic sweeping the country appears to be exacting a particularly high toll in black and Latino communities, where both infection rates and deaths appear to be far out of proportion to the groups’ share of the overall population.
A Washington Post analysis says counties that have a majority-black population are experiencing three times the rate of coronavirus infection and six times the death rate of counties with majority-white makeups. In Michigan, which has the third highest number of coronavirus deaths, with 845, blacks account for 33 percent of all cases and about 40 percent of deaths, despite making up only 14 percent of the state’s population.
Higher death rates are being attributed, at least in part, to higher prevalence among blacks of conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease — all conditions that put patients at greater risk once they’ve contracted coronavirus.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who is only 45, offered poignant first-hand testimony to that issue yesterday, saying he is “prediabetic” and suffers from a heart condition and asthma. “So I represent that legacy of growing up poor and black in America,” he said.
As troubling as the patterns are, they are exactly what public health officials have been warning about.
“We cannot have a conversation about coronavirus without talking about those who are bearing most of the brunt of its consequences,” Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, said more than two weeks ago on the Codcast. “We have a country that is best described as having health haves and health have-nots, and the health have-nots, which are, depending on how you count, the poorest 50 percent or the poorest 80 percent of the population, are going to also suffer most of the consequences of this, of the coronavirus and the approaches to mitigate it.”
Galea is co-chair of a statewide coalition dubbed the Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity, which issued four urgent recommendations last month of steps the state should take, including a ban on evictions and foreclosures and measures to ensure that those infected have access to safe quarantine housing. Earlier this week, the task force weighed in again, saying the state is falling short.
The Globe’s Marcela García has a gripping account today of how coronavirus is rampaging through Chelsea. Although municipal data across the state are limited, García says the small, heavily Latino city sandwiched against Boston’s northern border has the highest COVID-19 rate in the state, nearly 79 cases per 10,000 residents.
“Deep crises reveal our societal fault lines, and nowhere is that more clear than in Chelsea,” she writes.García describes a host of factors at play, including lack of attention to social distancing, lack of access to health care, and the preponderance of jobs among low-wage workers that can’t be done while isolating at home.
Gladys Vega, director of a Chelsea social service nonprofit, told García that a young undocumented immigrant who recently had a postive coronavirus test showed up at the agency last Friday to get food. Vega chided her for coming in, saying she should have remained at home and telephoned for a delivery of food given her infection status. She then told the woman it was imperative she tell the eight people she shares a three-bedroom apartment with that she is infected with coronavirus.