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Stark statistics are coming to light only now and only in piecemeal fashion showing that African Americans are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. The racial divide in who gets infected, who gets tested, and who dies from Covid-19 is emerging from the few cities and states whose data are public.

African Americans in Illinois, for example, accounted for 29% of confirmed cases and 41% of deaths as of Monday morning, yet they make up only 15% of the state’s population, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, one of just a handful of government agencies sharing information on who is hardest hit by the virus. Michigan mirrors Illinois, with 34% of Covid-19 cases and 40% of deaths striking African Americans, even though only 14% of Michigan’s population is African American. The story is similar in Wisconsin, where ProPublica first reported that African Americans number nearly half of the 941 cases in Milwaukee County and 81% of its 27 deaths while the population is 26% African American.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention distributes data on age, gender, and location of Covid-19 patients but not their race or ethnicity. The CDC did not respond to a request for comment made on Monday, but on Tuesday CDC spokesman Scott Pauley pointed to information sent to the agency from public health departments around the country. “Unfortunately, case report forms are often missing important data, including race and ethnicity. To address this and other data gaps, supplementary surveillance systems are being stood up to better capture ethnicity and race data, as well as other key demographic or clinical information.”


CDC’s current posture has set off challenges from legal and medical professionals to release that data so resources can be better allocated to the people who need them the most.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and nearly 400 medical professionals have demanded that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services release daily racial and ethnic demographic data on Covid-19 tests, cases, and outcomes. They cited both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act, which prohibit discrimination in health care services. The absence of data amounts to denial of appropriate care, the group argues.


“We are deeply concerned that African American communities are being hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and that racial bias may be impacting the access they receive to testing and healthcare,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the committee, said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

The grim reality reflected in those limited statistics fits with longstanding research on the social determinants of health as well as the very specific risk factors that come into play for the spread of the coronavirus.

Lisa Cooper, an internal medicine physician and a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said she’d have to speculate, given the dearth of data, but she listed multiple reasons why as a group African Americans of lower income are more likely to become ill: People working for an hourly wage don’t have the luxury of being able to shelter at home or the means to buy two weeks’ worth of healthy food. They may work in jobs deemed essential, such as in public transportation, public safety, or health care. If they quit, they would lose their health insurance, if they have it, and access to health care. If they continue working, they risk exposure to the coronavirus. And they are more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma, chronic conditions that put them at higher risk for more serious Covid-19 illness.

“African Americans in many large cities began to practice social distancing behavior much later than whites, largely due to the fact [whites] could stay at home to work,” Cooper told STAT.

Like dominoes, one risk factor topples into another, said Brian Williams, a trauma surgeon, intensive care doctor, and associate professor at University of Chicago Medicine. He was shocked when he learned that in his city, 70% of the people who died from the virus were African American, according to data analyzed by WBEZ.

“I’m disheartened because the disparity is so great and I wish I could do more, although I’m a doctor with a certain skill set that is useful right now,” he said in an interview. “I wish I could do a lot more.”

If there were more complete information, more could be done to help people who are sick and stanch the spread of disease, he said.

“We need to have a demographic breakdown of who will be impacted and how we as a health care system can deploy all our resources and personnel in the most efficient and effective manner to ensure the safety and well-being of the entire American public,” Williams said. “Now we’re flying blind because we don’t know.”

That racial and ethnic demographic data are being collected — it’s just not being reported out to the public, said Uché Blackstock, an emergency physician in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I think it speaks to just how broken our system is,” she said. “We actually have the data in our city. All of the electronic medical records systems collect racial and ethnic demographic data. It’s a matter of getting our Department of Health to disclose what that data shows. ”

Williams is looking beyond the current crisis, beyond the surge of patients he fears is still coming.

“This affects all of us, either directly or indirectly,” he said before returning to the ICU. “And when the pandemic is over, our recovery plan should be one of unity in order to rebuild a better society that recognizes the shared humanity of everyone living within our borders.”

This story has been updated to include a response from the CDC.

  • This is garbage and exactly why our country stays divided. It clearly says they will not give that information out of race so exactly how did you come up with this data? You are making it up. Get a life. This is a virus from China that’s infected all countries of races. Most with no African American population. Africa doesn’t have near as many cases of other countries. So technically it seems to be the other way around but you don’t see anyone else making it about race and mad at African Americans. But thank you so much for keeping our country divided in race in a time we need to come together the most. Your day is coming.

    • Correct. The Wuhan coronavirus originated in Asia due to unsanitary food markets and was transmitted here by Asians and Europeans, who now have the highest global death rates. Thank you Black doctors and policymakers who are leading the AMA and American Public Health Association and those on the front lines who are advocating solutions for Black patients, making sure those patients get tested and are treated successfully-not just quoting stats to avoid a white face of Covid-19 (backfiring) and withhold care from Black patients. Whites like those in Palm Beach, which leads Florida in deaths, are conveniently not mentioned with this narrative, Cooney included, and their behavior is being downplayed. Thank you also to Black Americans who are heroic and diligent essential workers exposing themselves and putting their lives on the line for work and their families. Protect and advocate for yourselves.

  • or maybe due to the decision-making by healthcare authorities, a black person will get the mask , last. This is a vulnerable moment for an entire planet, HOW did yall come up with this? I’m with Uche, ethnicity & race is MOST definitely captured but not announced. When will yall choose unity over racism or unity over $$$ ? This country will receive more money when yall practice unity. Lets face it, black people will always be the trigger IN THIS COUNTRY. Who was black in China?

  • I am trying to understand why they need to say the reasons why blacks are more affected when we have a lot of the same reasons in others races. Ask yourself this ; You say you have a shortest of PPEs. There’s a black, yellow and isian and white person . Who is the ” least ” to get the life saving equipments . We all know , a black person. So lets be honest .That’s why more blacks are dieing . God know the truth . lets leave race out and focus on patients care only .

  • I honestly mean no offense to anyone, I am not even trying to be smart aleck with this- I WISH there was some huge disparity in racial effect of this virus. No, I do not want black people to be sick – but I am white, and if black people were 4/5ths of the people who need to go to a hospital, and since there are at least 5 times more white people than black people in my area, that would mean my odds of ending up very seriously sick are much, much smaller than i thought they were. Very comforting stuff.
    But I really, really, really, really doubt the actual numbers are that far out of line – I have seen nothing like that from any study – I mean, they do not address that in most discussions of treatments, but that big a disparity would be hard to miss- and while Santa Clara county really does not have many black people, it’s got plenty of coronavirus -I am not saying everything is equal, I will take the words of people in the ERs that they are not – but the numbers being given out are very hard to believe.
    Again, no offense to anyone, we are all in this together, all in danger now, and we all must take care of each other the best we can. Best wishes for all.

  • Those who refer to this piece as “race bating garbage” are the same people who deny the existence of systematic racism and are ignorant as to how these systems impact the most vulnerable people in our society in different contexts. The data is lacking only because race/ethnicity are not being widely recorded. Why might that be…? The numbers are incomplete, but they do shed light on a truth that members of the dominant culture (whites) would rather deem “fake news” than to accept.

    • There isn’t enough data. Speculation isn’t helpful.

      Breathe in. Breathe out.

    • S. Watkins, I am amazed at the calloused denial that there could possibly be racial disparity in the number of deaths between black and white people in America. I thought I would be seeing outrage that yet again African Americans are being made to suffer because our society has chosen not to even report the information. When it does come out, I believe it is most vile for anyone to say it isn’t true. I also believe that until we can sit down and hear the pain from people who have been mistreated, enslaved in low paying jobs, not even been seen by a way to large number of white people, we will continue to have white people who fear people of color, and anyone not like them, and they nearly always start calling the people, who are trying to relate facts and and the truth, names, like liberal, or bleeding hearts, or much worse. Denying the truth, does not make it any less the truth; but it does continue to endanger black humans, men, women, and children. If, just for one brief moment, people who are prejudiced and bigoted, and angry and filled with hate, if they could listen to the truth without getting upset, and stop and think of how they would feel if the racial shoe were on the other foot, they maybe, just maybe discover that compassion and love leave no room for hate, or name calling. We humans beings have the capacity to do the right things, and it shouldn’t require courage, but it often does. I am deeply worried about the future, not only for humans, but for our planet.

  • This article is a prime example of fake news made up by the author. Apples and oranges. Fake news was obvious as the author compared percentages of diverse population in large cities like Detroit or Chicago to the entire state. Tony Molinaro nailed it.

  • Really interesting that the “Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law” is interested in touting black COVID deaths as a percentage of ALL US deaths but when you ask groups of this nature to simply observe the percentage of all crimes committed by blacks relative to the percentage of blacks in the US they tend to get REAL testy REAL fast.

    “Overrepresentation” cuts both ways, guys.

    • Spoken by “Hector Tejada”-cant make this up. The white poor and urban poor have the highest rates of violence according to the Bureau of Journal Statistics, but are arrested and convicted less by other whites. That is a fact. Whites are also 90% of heroin criminals and users, and now that most heroin criminals are white, an entire generation and class of whites has been de-criminalized and repurposed as patients who have a so-called ‘opioid crisis.’ So, it is a crisis now, Hector? Why aren’t they in prison? I’ll wait.

  • The fact that Ms. Cooney chose to end with Dr. William’s quote, ““And when the pandemic is over, our recovery plan should be one of unity in order to rebuild a better society that recognizes the shared humanity of everyone living within our borders.” – is proof positive of her forgone conclusion – despite the lack of clear data – and the desire to create racial tension and false injustices in society.
    I fact that certain people, in certain demographics, in certain cities, with certain health conditions, in certain income levels are suffering more or less from this virus does not speak in and of itself to a society that is ‘blind’ to our ‘shared humanity’ – that kind of fluff is meaningless virtue signaling and accomplishes nothing.

  • The only reason why a particular subset of people are more prone to covid19 is due to personal behaviors and not skin color, not race, not religious preferences, not nationality. Any organization or individuals that promotes this race-baiting garbage during a global crises, deserves to be fired and jailed. Your day of reckoning will come.

  • I am amazed that you published this article despite not having the data you would need to even hint at a conclusion. You first need to compare similar groups. Separate out all of the COVID patients who live in large cities, THEN compare the data for different races within that group. Separate out all of the COVID patients who have underlying conditions such as diabetes and lung issues, THEN compare the data for different races within that group. Separate out all of the COVID patients within a lower income bracket, THEN compare the data for different races within that group. Without doing that first, your article is just creating racial tension and you are writing it just to gain more clicks on your web site.

    • Thank you Mr. Molinaro even the Headline on the report says limited data so why would you put that out without solid evidence on what is really happening?

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