Updated on: April 23, 2020

COVID-19 and America’s Racial Divide

Original story posted on: April 22, 2020

Majority-black counties had infection rates of three times the rate of majority-white counties.  

Daily COVID-19 data continues to be tough to digest, with everyone keeping a close eye on the numbers of:

  • Persons tested,
  • Positive tests,
  • Hospitalizations, and
  • Deaths across each county and state, and worldwide.

Much recent attention has been devoted to the impact of the virus on communities and populations with the largest minority segments, especially persons of color. As mentioned in my recent RACmonitor article, COVID-19 has further widened the gap between the have’s and have-nots, leaving a formidable chasm.

Data focused on health disparities and the social determinants of health (SDoH) has been coming out fast and furious. Top marks for producing this unique information go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  Kaiser Family Foundation, and the new COVID Racial Data Tracker, which follows data for 29 states (a collaboration between The Atlantic’COVID Tracking Project and American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center).

Key findings include the following:

  • Majority-black counties had infection rates of three times the rate of majority-white counties.
  • In Chicago, black people make up 29 percent of the population and roughly 70 percent of COVID-19 fatalities.
  • In Washington, D.C., blacks constitute 46 percent of the population and 62.5% percent of COVID-19 fatalities. In Michigan, Detroit accounts for nearly 85 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
  • For 1,500 hospitalizations across 14 states, persons of color comprised 30 percent of hospitalizations, accounting for only 18 percent of the population in those areas.
  • Over 70 percent of the people who have died from COVID-19 in Louisiana were black, over twice the 32-percent share of the state’s population.
  • In New York State, African Americans comprise 9 percent of the state population and 17 percent of the deaths, with Hispanics at 34 percent of known virus-related deaths, compared with their 29.1-percent share of the city’s population.
  • Persons concerned about immigration status and deportation are often reluctant to be tested, contributing to high virus transmission rates in some communities.
  • Unemployment is up 1,000 percent across the country, decreasing access to health insurance, increasing homelessness, and limiting testing options.

The result is that communities are stepping up more than ever to take care of their own. Efforts to increase testing are a must. Makeshift labs using rapid COVID-19 tests, many with telemedicine access, are appearing in California, Texas, the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Florida, and Georgia. Mobile test units to coordinate coronavirus testing were developed for underserved populations in North Carolina, where tests are offered to patients regardless of ability to pay or insurance status.

With numbers so prominent in areas with high populations of persons with immigration challenges, programs are vowing not to share immigration status or report any patients who are undocumented. Expanding testing options is vital, especially in areas with the highest transmission rates. Our Monitor Mondays Listeners Survey responses only emphasize this fact. The survey results are available here.

Programming Note: Ellen Fink-Samnick is a permanent panelist on Monitor Mondays. Listen to her live reporting this coming Monday during a special 60-minute townhall edition of Monitor Mondays, 10 -11 a.m. EST.


Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP

Ellen Fink-Samnick is an award-winning healthcare industry expert. She is the esteemed author of books, articles, white papers, and knowledge products. A subject matter expert on the Social Determinants of Health, her latest books, The Essential Guide to Interprofessional Ethics for Healthcare Case Management,  Social Determinants of Health: Case Management’s Next Frontier (with Foreword by Dr. Ronald Hirsch), and End of Life Care for Case Management are published through HCPro. She is a panelist on Monitor Mondays, frequent contributor to Talk-Ten-Tuesdays, and member of the Editorial Advisory Boards of Professional Case Management, Case Management Monthly, and RAC Monitor. Ellen also serves as the Lead for Rise Association’s Social Determinants of Health Community.

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