State News

Data show larger impact of COVID-19 on black residents in NC, nationally

Posted April 7, 2020 3:27 p.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2020 4:44 p.m. EDT

— Available COVID-19 data from states across the nation show black Americans are being infected and dying from the virus at disproportionate rates.

Only nine states, including North Carolina, regularly published the demographics of coronavirus cases as of Tuesday. Just six tracks racial data for coronavirus deaths. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks neither.

But the limited data health departments are releasing show disparities between black and white patients.

In Louisiana, black Americans make up 32 percent of the population but 70 percent of deaths.

In Milwaukee County, 81 percent of deaths are black patients, although they make up 27 percent of that community.

There are similar numbers for Illinois and Michigan, where black patients make up about 40 percent of the deaths in each state.

Total NC coronavirus cases, deaths, hospitalizations

Reporters at WRAL News are tracking real-time updates of the latest cumulative totals of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths across North Carolina. The number of patients currently hospitalized are reported daily by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services every morning and are a reflection of a daily survey of hospitals. Because the response rate of that survey varies day to day, we're showing a rolling 7-day average of hospitalizations calculated since the state began reporting numbers consistently on March 24.

Source: DHHS, county health departments
Graphic: Tyler Dukes, WRAL

In North Carolina, as of Tuesday morning, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported racial demographics for about 2,000 of the state's 3,221 COVID-19 patients – for the rest of the cases, data on demographics is missing.

Black residents make up 38 percent of those cases and 31 percent of the deaths. That's despite making up about 22 percent of the state's population, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

Public health experts say its too early to know exactly why the country is seeing unequal rates of infections and deaths among black Americans. But they're pushing for more data to find out.

On Monday, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wrote to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on behalf of nearly 400 doctors and public health experts expressing "grave concern regarding the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color that have historically suffered from both health and economic disparities in this country."

The group urged HHS to start collecting, monitoring and publishing both racial and ethnic demographic data to help better understand the impacts and stop the spread.

"The absence of this critical data on a national scale will severely hamper the ability to develop robust public health interventions responsive to the needs of communities of color," the letter from Lawyers' Committee President Kristen Clarke read.

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