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Black Americans dying of coronavirus at 2.4 times the rate of white people, analysis shows

The disparity in the death rate between blacks and whites is greater at the state level. Black residents are dying at seven times the rate of whites in Kansas and it is six times in Washington
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

African-Americans have died from coronavirus at 2.4 times the rate of white people, according to the latest figures which provide further evidence of the staggering racial divide in the Covid-19 death rate between blacks and the rest of the nation. Across the country, African-Americans have died at a rate of 54.6 per 100,000 people, compared with 22.7 for whites, 24.9 for Latinos, and 24.3 for Asian-Americans, shows an analysis by non-partisan APM Research Lab. This is according to data examined until May 26. The research team says that aggregated deaths from Covid-19 across 40 US states and the District of Columbia have reached new highs for all groups: 1 in 1,850 black Americans has died, 1 in 4,000 Latino Americans has died, 1 in 4,200 Asian Americans has died, and 1 in 4,400 white Americans has died. If they had died of Covid-19 at the same rate as whites, about 13,000 African-Americans, 1,300 Latino Americans and 300 Asian Americans would still be alive, say experts. 

“For each 100,000 Americans (of their respective group), about 55 blacks have died from the coronavirus, a mortality rate more than double the rate for Asians and Latinos, and 2.4 times that of whites. Since we began reporting these data, black Americans’ Covid-19 mortality rate across the US has never fallen below twice that of all other groups, revealing a durable pattern of disproportionality,” says the research team in their report, ‘Color of Coronavirus.’ They add, “While we have an incomplete picture of the toll of Covid-19, the existing data reveals deep inequities by race, most dramatically for black Americans.” According to the analysis, 21,878 black Americans are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 through May 26, which is an increase of 1,683 deaths among blacks compared to their last report one week earlier. As of June 1, more than 1,790,190 coronavirus cases have been reported from across the US, and over 104,380 have died in the Covid-19 pandemic. 

(APM Research Lab)

At the level of individual states, the statistics are all the more shocking. In some places, the multiple between black and White mortality rates greatly exceeds the 2.4 overall figure that the team has constructed from all available data for the US. In Kansas, for example, black residents are seven times more likely to have died than white residents, while in Washington, DC, the rate among blacks is six times as high as it is for whites. In Missouri and Wisconsin, it is five times greater, shows data. In Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and South Carolina, blacks are three-four times more likely to have died of the virus than whites. “In many states, the virus is also killing black residents several multiples more often than Asian and Latino residents,” says the report. The team explains that another way to examine racial disproportionality in coronavirus-related mortality is by comparing the percentage of Covid-19 deaths to the percentage of the population. The analysis shows that disproportionately high mortality is more widespread for black Americans than any other group. Collectively, blacks represent 12.9% of the population in all areas in the US that have released Covid-19 data on deaths, but they have suffered 25% of deaths, find researchers. In other words, they are dying of the virus at a rate of roughly double their population share, among all American deaths where race and ethnicity are known.

Black Americans were over-represented in Covid-19 deaths overall and in 28 of the 41 jurisdictions examined. In 16 states — Michigan, South Carolina, Missouri, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, North Carolina, Mississippi, Maryland, New York, and Kentucky — as well as in the District of Columbia, black residents share of the deaths exceed their share of the population by 10 to 31 percentage points, say researchers. “These are exceptionally large disparities. In no state with 10 or more deaths were black residents under-represented in Covid-19 mortality data. However, in the six states of Oklahoma, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Washington, Rhode Island, and Arizona, African-Americans are dying at rates roughly proportional to their population,” says the analysis. The team further says that “the convergence of racial and geographic disparities” in Covid-19 deaths in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York has resulted in more than 1 in 1,000 (not 100,000) black residents who have died. Louisiana is also just below this threshold. 

According to the analysis, collectively, blacks represent 12.9% of the population but have suffered 25% of Covid-19 deaths in the US (Getty Images)

According to the report, racial detail on the deceased was available for 90% of deaths in reporting jurisdictions, accounting for 89% of all American deaths till May 26 (when about 99,000 Americans had died of coronavirus). The researchers state that at the time of writing the report, 11 states had not yet publicly released Covid-19 mortality data with racial details, which includes Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. “Even among states releasing Covid-19 data by the race of the deceased, the data is often incomplete or infrequent. In Texas, only one-quarter of deaths have racial or ethnic detail associated with them. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, only about 6 in 10 deaths have this information. In Louisiana, New York City, and New Hampshire, deaths are reported daily, but racial detail for them only weekly,” they explain. 

“Numerous states release only percentages, not counts of deaths, requiring us to estimate the data rather than know precisely how communities have been affected. Many states also fail to report smaller populations uniquely, obscuring the picture for Indigenous Americans and other groups. All of these reporting shortcomings render our picture of the virus’ toll incomplete and makes it more difficult to assess the disproportionate impacts on communities,” says the team. Accordingly, the researchers have called on state and local health departments to release timely data about Covid-19 deaths with as complete racial and ethnic detail as is possible to improve the understanding of the devastating impact of coronavirus pandemic. This will inform states and communities about how to direct resources more equitably as well, says the team. 

Experts say that greater health disparities in places with a greater concentration of black Americans is not unique to Covid-19. Similar patterns have been reported for other conditions such as HIV, air pollution, cancer, and low birth weight. In another report in May, researchers concluded that “as is the case with most fatal diseases, the new coronavirus is taking a disproportionate toll on black Americans and other disadvantaged minorities.” The analysis shows that as of April 14 in the US, 32% of deaths from Covid-19 occurred among black Americans who comprise only 13% of the population. These numbers indicate that they have a 2.3-fold excess risk of dying from Covid-19 compared to white Americans, says the team. “The observation poses major clinical and public health challenges. For example, for many decades, markedly reduced life expectancies of blacks compared with whites have been noted despite advances in preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic options. Now is the time to address short-term clinical and public health challenges to ensure equal access to any lifesaving innovation,” says the study published in the American Journal of Medicine.