White House: African Americans disproportionately affected by COVID-19

Coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, delivers remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI

April 8 (UPI) — Officials in the White House said data indicates that African Americans are disproportionately suffering from the coronavirus.

During a White House briefing on the coronavirus on Tuesday, White House officials, including President Donald Trump, acknowledged that the health of African Americans has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, explained that the data is not suggesting black people are more susceptible to the virus but that those who do test positive for COVID-19 disproportionately suffer from severe symptoms.

“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 suggest that,” she said. “What our data suggests is they are more susceptible to more difficult and severe disease and poorer outcomes.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, explained that the coronavirus is exacerbating a “health disparity” affecting the country’s minority populations, but especially African Americans.

He said African Americans suffer disproportionately from underlying health conditions — such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and others — that increase the likelihood someone will require intensive care or intubation when they are infected with the coronavirus.

“We’re very concerned about that,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about it right now, except try and give them the best possible care to avoid those complications.”

Their remarks followed the release of data this week that indicated black people in the country were suffering disproportionally due to COVID-19.

In Louisiana, health officials have been publishing a demographic breakdown of those who have died in the state from COVID-19 on its website, showing that more than 70 percent of its 582 deaths were from its black community.

In Michigan, black people accounted for 40 percent of its 845 deaths and 30 percent of its 18,970 cases.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday evening that new data shows the coronavirus is disproportionately killing African Americans in his county as black people account for 17 percent of all deaths to the virus despite only making up 9 percent of the population.

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“Based on initial data, the virus is disproportionately killing African Americans here in Los Angeles County, a reminder that while this virus has narrowed our sights on the immediate challenge before us, long-term racial disparities still exist and while this is a virus that certainly doesn’t pick who it infects based on the color the effect it has on our communities can be disproportionate,” he said during a press conference.

On Monday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights issued a letter along with nearly 400 medical professionals demanding the White House and health officials release daily racial and ethnic demographic data related to COVID-19 testing, cases and outcomes.

“We are deeply concerned that African American communities are being hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that racial bias may be impacting the access they receive to testing and healthcare,” said the group’s president and executive director Kristen Clarke in a statement. “Equal access to healthcare is a critical civil right issue and during this novel pandemic, the public deserves nothing less than full transparency from this administration and state public health officials.”

Trump told reporters Tuesday that the government should have a breakdown of the statistics in the coming days, remarking that “they’re very nasty numbers. Terrible numbers.”

Fauci said the disproportional effect the coronavirus has had on the black community reminds him of the impact HIV had upon the United State’s gay population during the 1980s.

He said hopefully this pandemic may shine a light on how “unacceptable” this disproportionality is.

“Because, yet again, when you have a situation like the coronavirus, they are suffering disproportionately,” he said. “As Dr. Birx said correctly, it’s not that they’re getting infected more often, its that when they do get infected, they’re underlying medical conditions … are the kind of things that wind them up in ICU and, ultimately, give them a higher death rate.”

He said when the pandemic is over this health disparity will still exist, “which we really do need to address in the African American community.”

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