'A Terrible Price': The Deadly Racial Disparities of COVID-19 in America

An article posted today in the New York Times highlights the racial disparities in the impacts of COVID-19, as revealed in health data that states have begun to release over the past month. The data show the staggeringly high death rate for African-Americans as compared to the population at large. These high death rates are believed to be strongly tied to underlying health conditions that are common and more deadly in black Americans, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.

The statistics cited in the article include: "In Michigan, black people make up 14 percent of the population but 40 percent of the deaths... In Wisconsin, black people are 7 percent of the population but 33 percent of the deaths. In Mississippi, black people are 38 percent of the population but 61 percent of the deaths."

The article goes on to state, "As scientists and policymakers have known since the 1980s, black and poor communities shoulder a disproportionate burden of the nation’s pollution. Covid-19 typically attacks the lungs and is especially dangerous to those with existing respiratory conditions... even a small increase in exposure to fine particulate matter — tiny particles in the air — leads to a significant increase in the Covid-19 death rate."

This article underscores that the social and physical environment that people live in has an outsized impact on health outcomes-- and that efforts to mitigate air pollution and improve public health can bolster the resilience of our communities against massive public health threats, whether it be the COVID-19 pandemic or the increasingly frequent and severe impacts of climate change, including wildfires, extreme heat, flooding and sea level rise.

Read the full article here