As a clearer picture emerges of COVID-19’s decidedly deadly toll on black Americans, leaders are demanding a reckoning of the systemic policies they say have made many African Americans far more vulnerable to the virus, including inequity in access to health care and economic opportunity.
A growing chorus of medical professionals, activists and political figures is pressuring the federal government to not just release comprehensive racial demographic data of the country´s coronavirus victims, but also to outline clear strategies to blunt the devastation on African Americans and other communities of color.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first breakdown of COVID-19 case data by race, showing that 30% of patients whose race was known were black. The federal data was missing racial information for 75% of all cases, however, and did not include any demographic breakdown of deaths.
The latest Associated Press analysis of available state and local data shows that nearly one-third of those who have died are African American, with black people representing about 14% of the population in the areas covered in the analysis.
Rev Al Sharpton, pictured in Manhattan’s East Harlem on Friday, is among the leaders demanding a reckoning of the systemic policies they say have made many African Americans far more vulnerable to the virus
People wait for a distribution of masks and food from the Rev. Al Sharpton in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, after a new state mandate was issued requiring residents to wear face coverings in public
Sharpton has said: ‘Inner-city residents must follow this mandate to ensure public health and safety.’ The latest Associated Press analysis of available data shows that nearly one-third of those who have died from the coronavirus are African American, even though blacks are only about 14% of the population.
Roughly half the states, representing less than a fifth of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths, have yet to release demographic data on fatalities. In states that have, about a quarter of the death records are missing racial details.
Health conditions that exist at higher rates in the black community — obesity, diabetes and asthma — make African Americans more susceptible to the virus. They also are more likely to be uninsured, and often report that medical professionals take their ailments less seriously when they seek treatment.
‘It´s America´s unfinished business — we´re free, but not equal,’ civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson told the AP. ‘There´s a reality check that has been brought by the coronavirus, that exposes the weakness and the opportunity.’
Data from states, cities and counties show black people are regularly overrepresented compared to their share of the population
This week, Jackson´s Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the National Medical Association, a group representing African American physicians and patients, released a joint public health strategy calling for better COVID-19 testing and treatment data. The groups also urged officials to provide better protections for incarcerated populations and to recruit more African Americans to the medical field.
Jackson also expressed support for a national commission to study the black COVID-19 toll modeled after the Kerner Commission, which studied the root causes of race riots in African American communities in the 1960s and made policy recommendations to prevent future unrest.
Daniel Dawes, director of Morehouse College´s School of Medicine´s Satcher Health Leadership Institute, said America´s history of segregation and policies led to the racial health disparities that exist today.
‘If we do not take an appreciation for the historical context and the political determinants, then we´re only merely going to nibble around the edges of the problem of inequities,’ he said.