DETROIT – African Americans are disproportionately likely to say a family member or close friend has died of COVID-19 or respiratory illness since March, according to a series of surveys conducted since April that lays bare how black Americans have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
Eleven percent of African Americans say they were close with someone who has died from the coronavirus, compared with 5% of Americans overall and 4% of white Americans.
The findings are based on data from three COVID Impact surveys conducted between April and June by NORC at the University of Chicago for the Data Foundation about the pandemic's effect on the physical, mental and social health of Americans.
While recent surveys conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research have found that black Americans are especially likely to know someone who had the virus, the new data from the COVID Impact research further details the toll the pandemic has taken on black Americans.
Pre-existing conditions and limited access to health care have been identified as reasons black Americans have been particularly susceptible to the virus. Experts and medical professionals say the longstanding effects of structural racism and generational trauma exacted upon black Americans in the centuries following slavery also cannot be ignored.
“The health inequities that we’re seeing here are nothing new, because we’re starting in a place where during slavery, we had black women who were enslaved and were being experimented on by white male physicians,” said New York-based Dr. Uché Blackstock, a former associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine and the founder of Advancing Health Equity. “So our healthcare system is founded on racism, and our communities have been essentially made sick by racism. We carry the highest disease burden in almost every parameter. We were already in a crisis.”
The COVID Impact surveys show the racial gap is equally striking in some cities and states hit especially hard by the virus. In Louisiana, 16% of black adults, compared with 6% of white adults, are close with someone who has died, according to the surveys. Black people represent about 33% of the state’s population but account for 53% of the state’s nearly 3,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to data from the state's health department.
The differences are equally stark in several metropolitan areas: Among black adults in Atlanta, 14% have a family member or close friend who has died, compared with 4% of white adults. The comparison is 12% vs. 4% in Baltimore, 15% vs. 2% in Birmingham, Alabama, and 12% vs. 4% in Chicago.