April 10, 2020

Need to know: COVID-19

For more, EdNC.org is updating this article daily with news and resources. All daily updates are archived at the bottom of the post.

Policy challenge: The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black communities

Over the past month, many have warned that COVID-19 would hit black and poor communities the hardest, and now we are seeing confirmation of that as some states release data broken down by race/ethnicity.

In North Carolina, black or African American people make up 39% of laboratory-confirmed cases and 38% of deaths from COVID-19 as of Thursday, April 9, despite making up an estimated 22% of the state’s population. You can see COVID-19 data broken out by race/ethnicity in the table below from NC DHHS.

Screen Shot 2020 04 09 at 11.15.14 AM

The data is even more stark in Louisiana, where black people make up 70% of deaths from COVID-19 despite making up about a third of the population.

Why is this happening? Several news outlets have published good explainers this week, including this article from North Carolina Health News and the featured article below by a UNC epidemiologist. In short, the virus is exposing longstanding disparities in access to health care and health insurance, jobs that allow for social distancing and provide paid sick leave, adequate housing, and basic resources for health and well-being.

UNC epidemiologist Grace Noppert summed it up this way: “It is evidence of centuries of segregation and discrimination that have disproportionately placed people of color in communities without access to health care, with degraded and crowded living conditions and a lack of basic opportunities for health and wellness.”

And a recent New York Times article quoted NC DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, saying: “This current crisis lays out what we have known for a long time, which is that your ZIP code is often a determinant of your health outcome.”

In terms of policy solutions, this is a systemic issue that will not be solved overnight. However, releasing data by race/ethnicity is the first step in understanding how the virus is impacting our communities and what can be done in response.

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