The Stream

Why are black Americans hardest hit by the coronavirus?

The Stream looks at why black communities in the United States are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States has now passed 985,000, with the disease killing more than 55,000 people. But as novel coronavirus continues its march across all 50 states, disproportionately high numbers of black Americans are among those dying from the disease.

Preliminary nationwide data released by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests black Americans make up about 30 percent of COVID-19 patients, despite the fact only 13 percent of the US population is black. But much of that federal data is missing information on the racial identity of those who have contracted COVID-19 – and some state and local figures paint an even bleaker picture. In Louisiana, black people account for 56 percent of those who have died from COVID-19 but only 32 percent of the general population. In Michigan, black people comprise 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths but just 13.8 percent of the state population.

Health researchers, journalists and social scientists say there are several reasons why black communities are being disproportionately affected by coronavirus. Many black Americans work in essential public-facing industries such as retail, mass transit and food preparation, holding jobs that do not offer sick leave or health insurance and which only raise enough wages for rental housing in areas neglected by local authorities. African Americans are also at higher risk of chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, pre-existing conditions that place extra stress on those who fall ill with COVID-19. Racial justice advocates say the challenges that coronavirus poses to black communities in the US stem from decades of racist public policy and stereotyping.

The Stream will look at how coronavirus is a life-or-death issue for black Americans. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak to:
Dr. Sharrelle Barber, @HealthEquityDoc
Social epidemiologist

Nikole Hannah-Jones, @nhannahjones
Staff writer, New York Times Magazine

Read more:
Coronavirus is disproportionately killing African Americans 
Racism: The most dangerous ‘pre-existing condition’