Angela's Blog

African Americans at a Disadvantage amid Coronavirus Outbreak

The United States is, without a doubt, one of the worst-hit countries by the Coronavirus. There are over 400,500+ cases nationwide and a total of 12,857 deaths and rising. However, hidden in these figures is the underling racial bias of the American health care system.

New York, New Jersey, Michigan, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts are the eight most affected states across the US. The total number of cases in these states exceeds the 13,000 marks, and it's here that the African American population seems to be facing the brunt of the virus more so than any other race.

The Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, released essential statistics regarding the Coronavirus affectees. African Americans account for more than 50% of those that have tested positive, and around 72% of total deaths when they make up only 15% of the State’s total population.

It’s not just Chicago that’s showing such an alarming number of African American affectees, but the trend seems to echo nationwide.

In Illinois, 43% of those who have suffered death at the hands of Coronavirus pandemic are African Americans. They also make around 28% of those tested positive for the virus when they make only 15% of Illinois’s population as per the stats revealed by the state government.

African Americans account for 14% of Michigan’s population and represent 40% of deaths and a third of the positive tests in the State. The worst kind of disparity is visible in Louisiana, where they account for 70% of the total deaths even though make only a third of the State’s population.

Similarly, as per the statistics released by South and North Carolina, the ratio of African Americans to white residents, who tested positive for the virus, far outweighs the population ratio. Many argue that they, in fact, are over-represented, and the high number of those tested positive comes about as a result of more African Americans getting tested than any other race.

However, there is no denying the fact that States with large African American populations seem to be hotspots for the virus outbreak. There is also no denying that the pervasive structural inequalities are to blame for the shocking disparity. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump acknowledged the worsening gap, questioning the reason behind the difference in the number of affectees.

According to Sharrelle Barber, an assistant research professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University, the government’s 1930’s redlining policies are to blame. Despite widespread revolt, anti-racism, and equal rights campaigns, the majority of the African American population still lives in segregation and has low paying jobs.

They do not have access to basic infrastructural facilities, including quality education and health care. In fact, they make up the majority of the under and uninsured population of the United States. The longstanding inequalities are what bring about such drastic disparities in those affected by the virus, as pointed out by Senator Bernie Sanders in his live address.

According to a 2017 report by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, African Americans accounted for the higher uninsured rates amounting to around 12%, as compared to whites (7.5%) and Asian Americans (6.3%). The difference here is quite massive, and yet it is one of the lowest ever recorded thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

However, with Trump Administration trying to revamp ACA, the number of non-elderly African Americans signing up for the new plan has again decreased drastically. In 2019, only 4.1 million people signed up for the new plan, which is a 12% decrease as compared to 2018.

That comes as no surprise as, throughout the State’s, there was a massive insurance premium hike, as trump administration removed the penalty of not being insured. His administration also reduced Obamacare funding to $10 million, which is a 90% reduction.

What we witness now is more or less collateral damage of careless policies and politicizing of basic necessities such as health care and housing, as pointed out by Bernie Sanders. The systematic bias at play in the country is to blame for the rising number of African American affectees throughout the country.

Besides restricted access to resources, another major contributor to the rising number of African American affectees is the economic class divide. While a substantial portion of the White population can afford the luxury of work from home during the pandemic, the nature of the job of their African American counterparts does not allow them to do so.

In an interview with The New York Times, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, Mr. Tolbert narrated how the nature of his job forced him to step out of the house purely because of the nature of his work. Despite the crisis in the country, he went about his routine while trying to follow social distancing rules to no avail as he contracted the virus nonetheless.

According to Arline Geronimus, a public health professor at the University of Michigan, ‘weathering’ may be the reason behind African Americans being at higher risk of contracting the disease. A significant chunk of one of the biggest minorities in America lives under the poverty line and lead stressful lives.

Exposure to toxins, radical discrimination, and even lack of sleep all lead to accelerated aging. Not only is Coronavirus substantially more lethal to the elderly but also to those with weaker immune systems. And the African American population seems to be taking the hit from both sides.

At a time like this, many states are attempting to cover up racial data so as to cover up the underlying racial discrimination against the African American community. More than 40% of the official reports pertaining to the spread of the virus, the affectees, and the number of deaths, contains no racial data.

Medical practitioners are calling for greater transparency. In fact, some of the worst-hit states have refrained from providing statewide information about the patient’s race. There is a need for a call to action to provide better treatment and healthcare facilities to African Americans.

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Brooker of Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey respectively all demand that Trump administration collect important data pertaining to race and ethnicity and the coronavirus treatment and testing.

The difference in the number of affectees and the death toll as compared to the population is ratio is cause for alarm and demands constructive action to curb damages to the African American community. The need to expose the underlying racial bias of the American healthcare system has never been greater.

Milwaukee, WI

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