4 reasons COVID-19 disproportionately affects black communities

COVID-19 appears to be affecting black Americans at a disproportionately high rate, with the majority of black counties reporting triple the infection rate and nearly six times the rate of deaths as majority white counties, according to an early analysis by The Washington Post.

Below are four main reasons black Americans are dying at a faster rate than other groups, as explained by The Fix.

1. Higher rates of underlying health conditions and less access to care

Black Americans have higher rates of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, data shows. COVID-19 exacerbates complications of these illnesses, experts say.

In predominantly black neighborhoods, hospitals are more likely to shut down compared to those in predominantly white neighborhoods, according to a 2014 National Institutes of Health study, meaning it may be difficult for black Americans to access healthcare nearby.

Studies have also found a bias among healthcare workers toward white patients over patients of color, said Uché Blackstock, MD, associate professor at New York City-based NYU School of Medicine. 

2. More likely to work in 'essential' jobs

Disproportionately high numbers of black people work in the food service, hotel and taxi industries, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled by the Center for American Progress. Such jobs make social distancing difficult and put workers in close contact with others who may be sick.

3. Insufficient information

Inconsistent and inadequate information from government leaders has influenced black people's experiences with COVID-19, said Keneshia Grant, PhD, assistant political science professor at Washington, D.C.-based Howard University.

Nearly 60 percent of black Americans live in Southern states, where governors' messages on how to stay safe were often inconsistent with federal guidelines.

The needs of black communities should be better addressed, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, said at the White House's daily briefing April 10.

4. Housing disparities

Racial disparities in housing put black residents at a much greater risk for contracting illnesses, said Vedette Gavin, investigator for the Conservation Law Foundation's Healthy Neighborhood Study.

Black children are more likely to live in older buildings with poor air quality, contributing to their higher rates of asthma, according to a 2017 Princeton University study. People with asthma may be at a greater risk of dying from COVID-19, the CDC said.

Housing affordability can also be a factor in COVID-19 transmission.

"Black and Latino families in urban centers tend to double and triple up when rent is unaffordable, making distancing in the home impossible," Ms. Gavin said.

Recent data from New York City showed the impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color, according to NPR.  The Latino population constitutes about 29 percent of the city's population, but make up nearly 34 percent of COVID-19 patient deaths as of April 13. Almost 28 percent of the city's known deaths were among black people, who represent about 24 percent of the population. 

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omeless COVID-19 patients put strain on San Francisco hospitals

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