Early data on US fatalities from COVID-19 show a disproportionate disease burden for African-American patients.
In Louisiana, 70.48% of the state’s 582 reported fatalities have been African-Americans. In Michigan, African-Americans account for 33% of all reported infections and 41% of all deaths, according to state health data. In Los Angeles County, of the 93 deaths reported where demographic data was available, African Americans made up 19% of COVID-19 deaths but only 9% of the county’s population.
“We’re seeing tremendous evidence that African-Americans are affected at a far greater percentage number than other citizens of our country,” President Trump said on Tuesday at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. “This is a real problem and it’s showing up very strongly in our data on the African-American community, and we’re doing everything in our power to address this challenge.”
According to the CDC, patients with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness, specifically patients with asthma, cardiovascular conditions, and diabetes, among others.
Some state mortality data on comorbidities plays that out. According to the New York Department of Health, 86% of COVID-19 fatalities in the state had at least one comorbidity (4,732 out of 5,489 deaths). The most frequent comorbid conditions in NY were hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia. In New Jersey, the most common comorbidities were cardiovascular disease (20%) and diabetes (13%), according to state data.
And as NIAID director Anthony Fauci explained, some of these comorbidities that raise COVID-19 mortality risk are the same health conditions that disproportionately afflict many African-Americans and are likely driving more severe illness and worse outcomes.
“We’ve known literally forever that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma are disproportionately afflicting the minority populations, particularly the African-Americans,” Fauci said at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus, the things that get people into ICU that require intubation and often lead to death, they are just those very comorbidities that are unfortunately disproportionately prevalent in the African American population.”
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 60% more likely to have diabetes, 20% more likely to have asthma, and 40% more likely to have heart disease, compared to non-Hispanic whites.
While African-Americans are not more susceptible to coronavirus, these comorbidities create worse outcomes for those who are infected, according to Dr Fauci and White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr Debra Birx.
“We don’t want to give the impression that the African American community is more susceptible to the virus. We don’t have any data that suggests that,” Dr Birx explained. “What our data suggest is they’re more susceptible to more difficult and severe disease and poor outcomes.”
Dr Fauci added: “It’s not that they’re getting infected more often, it’s that when they do get infected, their underlying medical conditions, the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma, those are the kind of things that wind them up in the ICU and ultimately give them a higher death rate.”