COVID-19 deaths high in African Americans

Updated: Apr. 7, 2020 at 6:14 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - While everyone is susceptible to COVID-19 statistics show 70 percent of people who died of the disease in Louisiana are African American.

From the onset of the crisis we’ve been told there is a lot we don’t know about novel coronavirus. Dr. Maurice Sholas acts as a hospital consultant and spends much of his time advocating for healthcare equity.

He said, “This is one of those things that you will know if you look and now we are starting to look and starting to ask the questions.”

Sholas said Covid follows known patterns in health disparities.

According to Sholas, “COVID isn’t exempt from the regular challenges we have with our healthcare system. COVID isn’t exempt from the fact that black people are less likely to be insured, black people are less likely to have access to a primary care doctor.”

Dr. Jim Diaz, professor of public health with LSU health, agrees the large number of poor outcomes can be traced to several issues.

He said unlike the state as a whole with about a 35 percent African American population 65 percent of people that live in New Orleans are black. That’s the area with the most recorded infections.

Diaz said, “So that is the predominant population and this demographic has a high percentage of chronic conditions particularly conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, renal disease, obesity. These are the top underlying conditions that predispose patients to becoming COVID-19 positive and getting severe infections.”

Sholas said, “I understand this disease people are framing it as it doesn’t care about your race, it doesn’t care about your class, it doesn’t care about your income, it attacks everyone, but that’s not what we’re seeing when we look at the hospitals.”

While it's true the disease can be deadly in anyone, it is showing itself to be particularly devastating to groups that have the underlying conditions.

“It's one of those things where this is yet another example of what we know to be a problem. We know that outcomes when it relates to heart disease, diabetes, asthma, are much different when it comes to different populations and that's not because there's something intrinsically defective or wrong with black people.”

Both physicians say the only way to deal with this emergency is stay the course with social distancing and for those with the pre-existing conditions to isolate as much as possible.

Sholas shared other areas tracking deaths by race show similar results. He said about 70 percent of deaths in Chicago are African American patients to a 30 percent population and only 26 percent of people in Milwaukee are black, but account for 81 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the area.