‘It takes your breath away’: Huge racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths in the US

Alarm is growing over the number of coronavirus deaths among people of colour across the US.

Aggressive public health campaigns are being launched in cities including Chicago, where black people accounted for 72% of deaths from COVID-19 complications and 52% of positive tests, despite making up only 30% of the population.

Experts say the trend is unsurprising given the longstanding barriers to health care for African-American communities in the geographically divided city, higher poverty rates and jobs that require them to keep attending their workplace while others are able to continue their employment from home.

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Other cities with large black populations that are considered hot spots for the coronavirus, including New York, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans, have also seen people of colour suffering disproportionately from the outbreak.

In Michigan, official figures showed African Americans, who make up 14% of the state’s population, account for about 33% of cases statewide and 41% of deaths.

And Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, said the disparities in his city “take your breath away” and demanded an immediate response from officials, community activists and healthcare providers.

“We can’t simply stand by and let this disease wreak havoc in our communities,” he said.

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“Lives are truly at stake.”

A series of measures are being rolled out across the city in an effort to curb the outbreak, with officials planning to contact residents considered most vulnerable, increase monitoring on buses and enforce social distancing limits in stores.

Healthcare providers in the city have also been asked to collect data on COVID-19 patients’ race and ethnicity, seeking to address existing gaps.

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National group the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law demanded more transparency across the US on race and ethnicity among the testing results, cases and patient outcomes reported by federal health authorities and state health agencies.

Illinois governor JB Pritzker said the state was responding to the disease’s impact on minorities by “reopening hospitals that are in those communities” and by targeting messages around social distancing “directly into the African-American community”.

Democratic members of Congress have previously called on health and human services secretary Alex Azar to ensure race and ethnic data is collected by health agencies across the country during the outbreak.

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Detroit, which is about 80% black, has recorded 5,032 confirmed cases with 196 people dead from complications due to the COVID-19 virus.

Coronavirus data specific to black residents was not available from the city, but Detroit and its surrounding suburbs account for about 80% of the state’s confirmed cases.

“It’s clear that what COVID-19 is doing is exacerbating the racial disparity in health in this country,” said Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, who led the Detroit Medical Center before taking office.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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