The virus does not discriminate. So why are African-Americans being hit the hardest by COVID-19?

Emergency medical technicians bring a patient into Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Monday.

Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

Emergency medical technicians bring a patient into Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Monday.

Raquel Perry, Reporter/Marketing Manager

New from the Centers for Disease Control found that COVID-19 is infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate.

A recent Associated Press analysis found that of nearly 3,300 of the 13,000 deaths so far, African Americans made up about 42% of the deceased. It’s the highest COVID-19 mortality rate of any race compared to the race’s overall proportion of the total population in the United States. About 33% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are African American, but African Americans make up just 13% of the nation’s population.

So what are the factors responsible for these numbers?

According to David R. Williams, a Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University, economic, environmental, health and political factors, along with decades of systemic disadvantages in black communities over generations, has put people of color at a greater risk of suffering diseases such as asthma, heart and lung diseases, high blood pressure, hypertension, cancer, and diabetes. Yes, these are all incapable of discrimination, but America is rooted in oppressive systems and prejudice mindsets. The health care system is just a part of that.

Over 120 years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “The most difficult social problem in the matter of Negro health is the peculiar attitude of the nation toward the well-being of the race.”

America’s health care system has a long history of being designed to hurt and disenfranchise people of color. One example would be treating racial and ethnic groups differently for the same issues. A comprehensive 2019 study from the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine found that Latino and black patients in emergency rooms were 22 percent less likely to receive medication than white patients. In addition, black women in America are three to four times likely to die during or after delivery than white women. This is why many African Americans have a distrusting relationship with doctors stemming from a history of medical experimentation and racial science.

Moreover, because of there economic disadvantage and other barriers, African Americans are more likely to have inadequate education about health issues, less likely to be insured, and less likely to have access to regular medical care. It’s always been known that African Americans, Latinos and other communities of color are disproportionately poor with little or no access to health care, which is why they are often predisposed to other chronic illnesses.

In addition, many African Americans, who are lower-wage service industry workers, are currently holding jobs that don’t allow them to stay home which is another reason for the disparity in who is being exposed and infected with the virus. They are more likely to live in neighborhoods that are lacking job opportunities, stable housing, and grocery stores that sell fresh, nutritious food.

Even before the coronavirus came on the scene, due to the aforementioned issues, black life expectancy has been several years shorter than that of the general population. David Williams, a professor of public health at Harvard, claims the coronavirus is “just exposing the roles economic injustice and racial bias play in health care.”

Beyond this, a French doctor suggested that Africa be the testing ground for a COVID-19 vaccine just this month on the French television channel, LCI. “If I could be provocative, shouldn’t we do this study in Africa where there are no masks, treatment, or intensive care, a little bit like we did in certain AIDS studies or with prostitutes?” Jean-Paul Mira questioned. He has received much backlash for the statement.

President Trump publicly acknowledged for the first time the racial disparity at the White House task force briefing Tuesday. “We are doing everything in our power to address this challenge, and it’s a tremendous challenge,” Trump said. “It’s terrible.” He added that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “is looking at it very strongly.”

“Why is it three or four times more so for the black community as opposed to other people?” Trump asked. “It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t like it, and we are going to have statistics over the next probably two to three days.”

So, no, the virus does not discriminate. But perhaps, it has shined a light on the severe inequities affecting African Americans and other communities of color. For these reasons, it is imperative that we not only be sure every hospital and state is collecting racial data but that we continue to take action and make this situation a national priority to end the racial bias in the health communities.