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A Black American crisis within the global pandemic: California is investigating unequal death rate

Ebone Monet | California Black Media

“One size does not fit all,” said Gov. Newsom at a press conference yesterday addressing mounting evidence that more African Americans are dying from COVID-19 complications than any other race across the United States and here in California. 

“We are disaggregating the data to break things down — on hospitalizations, ICUs and the death rates. We have gotten preliminary data back on that, but we are waiting to get all the data before I make it public and present it. I want it to be accurate. But that is being broken down in real time.”

The governor says the state plans to dig up the numbers on disparities in testing as well, “to make sure all communities in California are being tested.”

From all indications, early evidence shows Black people are dying at a disproportionate rate from the coronavirus. That is what data from a handful of states revealed. Numbers show African Americans are more likely to experience novel coronavirus complications from hospitalizations to death.  Black people are also less likely to have health insurance compared to their White counterparts.

And despite the national campaign to “Stay Home and Save Lives,” a recent report  from the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that working from home is not an option for most people. 

Democratic lawmakers, including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass), have joined advocates in calling on state and federal leaders to release demographic information about people infected with and dying from COVID-19. 

Los Angeles County released figures amid a national conversation on how COVID-19 is affecting racial groups differently. The city’s racial breakdown of coronavirus deaths shows the majority of people who died were White or Latino. However, Black people accounted for a disproportionate 17 percent of the deaths while making up 9 percent of the population.

Across the nation, states including New Jersey, North Carolina, and Illinois have released numbers that reveal racial disparities as well. Illinois, for example, reports that African Americans account for 42 percent of 380 deaths. That jumps to 70 percent in Chicago, a hotspot where cases are concentrated.

In Michigan, Black people make up 41 percent of the deaths but only 14 percent of the population. Louisiana reports a staggering 582 deaths, most were Black.

“It's not that they’re getting infected more often. It's that when they do get infected with their underlying medical conditions: diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma — those are the kind of things that wind them up in the ICU and ultimately death,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci during Tuesday’s White House briefing on the federal response to the pandemic. 

The nation’s top infectious disease doctor says the coronavirus is magnifying health disparities that “have always existed” between Whites and African Americans. “It is shining a bright light on how unacceptable that is because, yes, again when you have a situation like the coronavirus, they’re suffering disproportionately.”

Dr. Fauci says the efforts to limit health care disparities should resume after this global crisis.

“There is nothing we can do about it right now except to give them the best possible care to avoid complications," he said. 

Back in California, Newsom says the state’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force will address health equity as it relates to COVID-19.

 “The disparities on testing are a point of obvious and real concern,” he said.

Newsom’s task force includes Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first-ever African-American woman Surgeon General.

Harris says she researches the cause of health disparities, “because of the true and unfortunate history of medical maltreatment of different groups of people, but especially African Americans in the United States.

“There are real issues of trust between the African American community and the health care system,” she said.  

Newsom says as the state scales up testing efforts he wants to make sure resources reach underserved communities, “to make sure we’re in East Palo Alto, East LA, East Oakland and other parts of this state, and making sure that we do justice to the prism as it relates to race and ethnicity as well as making sure that geographically needs are met.”

Newsom has not offered details about how the state will address disparities if presented. He also did not give a timeline for the release of data specific to race.

Advocates say this information is needed to pinpoint the source of racial disparities and to ultimately better protect vulnerable communities.  



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