(Reuters) – Early data from U.S. states shows African Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19, highlighting longstanding disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care, experts said.
In Illinois, black people make up about 30% of the state’s cases and about 40% of its coronavirus-related deaths, according to statistics provided by the state’s public health agency. However, African Americans make up just 14.6% of the state’s population.
In Michigan, black people account for 40% of the state’s reported deaths, according to data released by the state, but its population is only 14% African American.
Many U.S. states, including hardest-hit New York, have not released demographic data showing the virus’ toll on different racial groups.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has not publicly reported data on the race and ethnicities of patients who have contracted COVID-19, the sometimes deadly respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.
“Because we don’t have broad access to testing, we don’t actually know how many people are infected in the U.S.,” said Dr. Jeffrey Levi, a professor of public health at The George Washington University. “We only have accurate data on who is actually getting hospitalized.”
In a letter sent late last month, a group of Democratic lawmakers including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kamala Harris urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to ensure such data is collected and published.
The World Health Organization has said people with pre-existing conditions like asthma and other chronic lung disorders, diabetes and heart disease appear to develop serious illness more often than others.
That makes the virus particularly dangerous for African Americans, who because of environmental and economic factors have higher rates of those illnesses, said Dr. Summer Johnson McGee, dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven.
McGee said she was not surprised the U.S. black population is experiencing a worse outcome during the pandemic. Racism has led to a lack of investment in African American communities and worse health care for the population in general, McGee said.
“A pandemic just magnifies the disparities in healthcare that many communities of color face,” she said.
Kristen Clarke, executive director of the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said race data was essential information for leaders to have so that federal, state and city resources can be distributed fairly.
“We know this data is being recorded and not released to the public,” she said, pointing to the CDC’s form that health care providers fill out when reporting a positive coronavirus case. “They must release that data to help shape an equitable response to the pandemic.”
Confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases neared 350,000, with more than 10,000 deaths, on Monday, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has by far the most known COVID-19 cases with nearly twice as many as Spain and in Italy, but fewer deaths than in the two hardest-hit European nations.
Reporting by Jan Wolfe; additional reporting by Brad Brooks; editing by Heather Timmons, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman