Data: African Americans most vulnerable to COVID-19

COVID-19 appears to be hitting minority communities hard with African Americans in some major cities counting for 70% or more of deaths from the virus, according to public health officials.

It’s a large disparity considering that blacks only make up 13% of the country’s population.

With higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and asthma, those conditions put African-Americans at greater risk for getting very sick.

“Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus, the things that get people into ICUs that require intubation and often lead to death, they are just those comorbidities that are disproportionately prevalent in the African American population,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Dr. Jay Wolfson with the University of South Florida Health told FOX 13 how bad it’s getting in some major cities.

“What we’re seeing is that in places like Los Angeles, 70% of the deaths from COVID are from African Americans, in Chicago 72%, in Milwaukee 81%,” said Wolfson.

The White House acknowledged the disproportionate numbers this week.

“We don’t want to give the impression that the African American community is more susceptible to the virus,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. “What our data suggests that is they are more susceptible to more difficult and severe disease and poorer outcomes.”

In Hillsborough County, Florida Department of Health numbers from Wednesday show blacks make up 28% of hospitalizations and 29% of deaths compared to other minority groups so far. Wolfson said those numbers don’t show the whole picture.

“We have a problem and that is we don’t have really good comprehensive data across the country. Even for those locations in which we do have data on race, it’s not very accurate,” said Wolfson. “So, from a public health response perspective, we need more data and better data so that we can target public health mitigation and prevention efforts more effectively.”

There are also other contributing disparities. U.S. Labor data shows blacks are less likely to have jobs that allow working from home, and other economic data shows lower access to insurance. In general, there is also cultural distrust of public health among African American communities.

“There’s a long-standing cultural animosity toward government testing because of what happened with Tuskegee many years ago where men were given the syphilis disease to see how it would work, and that’s never been forgotten,” said Wolfson.

So to get the message of risk across, experts said sometimes it takes the right messenger, like religious leaders, radio or TV programs.

“And make sure we broadcast the message through those sources that are trusted in those communities,” said Wolfson.

Health officials said the most important takeaway is to protect yourself and your family by staying away from those who don’t live with you even when that includes other relatives and friends. They said isolate yourself and call for help if you do get sick.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


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