April 5, 2020
Early data out of Milwaukee shows that African Americans have contracted and died of Coronavirus at a much higher rate than White Americans. In Milwaukee, the Coronavirus initially entered through a white, affluent suburb but soon spread to the inner city.
Black Americans were originally told misinformation like the bogus idea that black people were immune to the virus. Also, due to a history of painful government restrictions including segregation and mass incarceration, where black people were told where they could go and what they could do, adherence to social distancing was not high within the black community.
“We’re like, ‘We have to wake people up,’” Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik told ProPublica.
As ProPublica reports:
As of Friday morning, African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black. Milwaukee is one of the few places in the United States that is tracking the racial breakdown of people who have been infected by the novel coronavirus, offering a glimpse at the disproportionate destruction it is inflicting on black communities nationwide.
In Michigan, where the state’s population is 14% black, African Americans made up 35% of cases and 40% of deaths as of Friday morning. Detroit, where a majority of residents are black, has emerged as a hot spot with a high death toll. As has New Orleans. Louisiana has not published case breakdowns by race, but 40% of the state’s deaths have happened in Orleans Parish, where the majority of residents are black.
“We know in the U.S. that there are great discrepancies in not only the diagnosis but the treatment that African Americans and other minorities are afforded,” Dr. Ebony Hilton, an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Virginia, told Buzzfeed. “So I want to make sure that in this pandemic, that black and brown people are treated in the same way and that these tests are made available in the same pattern as for white people,”
Black communities have less access to health insurance which leads to less coronavirus testing. Black people are also more vulnerable to implicit biases. That is why doctors and lawmakers alike are calling for the government to provide demographic data of COVID-19 patients.
“COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation,” Dr. Camara Jones, a family physician, epidemiologist and visiting fellow at Harvard University who focuses on identifying, measuring and addressing racial bias within the medical system, told ProPublica. “This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance. … It’s because we’re not valued.”