Commentary, COVID-19

Report: African Americans are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates. We know why.

[Editor’s note: The following is the executive summary from an important new report on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that was released last week by the North Carolina Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project. Click here to explore the full report.]

African Americans are disproportionately contracting and dying from COVID-19.

  • Data from states such as Michigan, Illinois, New York, Alabama and Louisiana show that the percentage of African Americans who have been diagnosed with and died from COVID-19 is considerably higher than their representation as a percentage of the population.
  • If current trends hold, 162 African Americans will die from COVID-19 in North Carolina—70 more than would be expected to die based solely on the state’s demographic makeup.

Historical discriminatory policies and practices, as well as the nation’s failure to value its “essential workers,” have put African Americans at greater risk.

  • African Americans are more likely than white Americans to work jobs — even multiple jobs — that do not offer health insurance. Many of these workers fall into the “coverage gap,” meaning they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act.
  • African Americans are overrepresented in occupations now deemed essential to the well-being of the nation, such as food service, food production, home health care and nursing home care. These jobs put the people who work them at higher risk for contracting the coronavirus.
  • Neighborhoods and counties with high populations of people of color have fewer health care providers and grocery stores, as well as lower air and water quality due to the legacy of environmental discrimination. As a result, African Americans have a higher rate of conditions that make COVID-19 more deadly, such as diabetes, chronic lung disease and hypertension.

State lawmakers should immediately approve Medicaid expansion, which would reduce African American deaths from COVID-19 and long-term measures to improve the health of African American individuals and communities.

  • Approving Medicaid expansion is the most impactful step North Carolina lawmakers can take to both protect African Americans from the lethal effects of COVID-19 and improve the health and resiliency of African American communities, making them better able to combat this and future outbreaks.
  • Expanding Medicaid would provide a much-needed financial boost to rural hospitals, which currently face high costs for uncompensated care, and improve the health outcomes of rural communities.

Click here to explore the full report.

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