Not long after the first COVID-19 case was detected in the United States, the virus began to devastate Black families.
Black Americans are nearly three times as likely to be hospitalized due to the virus than white Americans, and twice as likely to die, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Given the known inequities in the health care system, some of this doesn’t come as a surprise. Still, the starkness of the racial gap has alarmed experts who have studied such health disparities for years. The pandemic, they say, is reflecting deeply entrenched systemic inequality that affects communities across the country. Issues like unequal access to consistent, quality health care, heightened likelihood of poverty, crowded housing, and increased stress due to racism drive disproportionate rates of chronic illness among Black Americans.
Those chronic conditions leave Black patients more likely to suffer severe complications from a serious, hyper-contagious, airborne virus like COVID-19.
And Black children aren’t immune to these inequities either. Like their parents, they face disparities in coronavirus infection, hospitalizations, and death.
As vaccine availability became more widespread, some Black Americans expressed fear and hesitancy about vaccine safety, rooted in the country’s history of medical racism. Instances like the Tuskegee experiment in the 1930s, during which Black men were intentionally denied treatment for syphilis, drives mistrust in government, historians say.
Pastors, public health experts, and health equity advocates have spearheaded efforts to get accurate, reliable information into communities that are particularly vulnerable. And the effort has helped slowly increase vaccination rates in Black communities nationwide.
Still, startling inequities persist.
The health of Black communities is an urgent topic as the threat of the pandemic continues. Capital B will cover COVID-19 and Black communities on an ongoing basis. To learn more about the topic, here is some suggested reading.
The first 100: COVID-19 took Black lives first. It didn’t have to — A team of reporters at ProPublica dive deep into Chicago’s first COVID-19 victims. The vast majority were Black.
How the coronavirus exposed health disparities in communities of color — Aaron Williams and Adrian Blanco map health risk indicators to determine which American communities could be most vulnerable to COVID-19’s devastating effects for The Washington Post.
COVID-19 hit this county hard. A weakened health department still can’t get people vaccinated — Aliyya Swaby reports on vaccination efforts in Georgia’s Clayton County, which has a large Black population and low vaccination rates.
Data science proved what Pittsburgh’s Black leaders knew: Racial disparities compound COVID risk — Christine Spolar writes about a group of data analysts and their efforts to expose the pandemic’s racial disparities for Kaiser Health News.
‘Health equity tourists’: How white scholars are colonizing research on health disparities — For STAT News, Usha Lee McFarling exposes a disturbing trend of white researchers receiving grants and publishing papers without citing the Black researchers who began the work.
Further Reading and Listening
Why the coronavirus is so deadly for Black America — This episode of Vox Conversations explores the longstanding health inequities that make Black Americans particularly vulnerable to severe COVID-19 complications.
The Black mortality gap, and a century-old document — Anna Flagg reports on the health care system’s role in racial disparities in mortality for The Marshall Project.
Black workers, already lagging, face big economic risks — For The New York Times, Jeanna Smialek and Jim Tankersley highlight the economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Black workers.
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present — Harriet Washington chronicles how researchers have continuously used Black Americans for health care experiments without their consent in her book.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — In this book, Rebecca Skloot captures the story of a Black woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge and how they’ve since transformed modern medicine.