Coronavirus takes deadly toll on African American communities

(CNN) – Coronavirus has had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans, as minority communities have seen much higher rates of infection and death.

Coronavirus has had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. (Source: CNN)

Terrance Burke was a doting father, a Navy veteran, and a hard-charging high school basketball coach. In March, the Prince George’s County, Md., resident became one of the first people in the state to die from the coronavirus.

“He was really big on family. He loved coaching,” daughter Arnetha Burke said. “It’s just very surreal, I didn’t expect for it to happen, for my dad to be like the example for the state of Maryland.”

Burke’s death was the canary in the coal mine for his community in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and the entire nation.

Just miles outside of the nation’s capital, one of the wealthiest majority black counties in the nation is being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Oh my God, it’s so terrifying,” Angela Alsobrooks said. “We heard what the aggravating factors were. We started saying, ‘Oh my God. That’s us.’”

Black residents like Burke in Prince George’s County have been contracting and dying from coronavirus at alarming rates.

“We have some of the highest per-capita PhDs, college educated black folk in the nation. And it is not protecting us,” said Stephen Thomas of the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland.

The data shows it’s a trend playing out all over the country, in urban, suburban, rural, wealthy and poor areas, and in more than half the country, according to a recent study by the non-partisan APM Research Lab.

In Detroit, 65% of cases and more than 80% of people who have died of COVID-19 are black.

In Washington, D.C., black residents account for nearly 75% of coronavirus deaths.

In New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, 26% of deaths have been among black residents even though they are just 14% of the population.

And in Maryland, black residents account for 42% of COVID-19 deaths but 29 percent of the population.

Alsobrooks, a Prince George’s County executive, says decades of racism are having a devastating impact here and all over the country.

“We also have had a really, really difficult time just trying to attract restaurants to come here, the grocers to come here, and it’s not because we’re not we don’t have the wealth and income. It infuriates me for people to say that people here are sicker because of our life choices,” she said.

Coronavirus deaths are concentrated mostly among older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease that are common among black Americans. But that doesn’t explain all of the disparities.

“Our workers are residents of senior living facilities, who works in those facilities, low paid workers who have now been designated essential,” Thomas said.

Maryland officials are moving to ramp up testing of asymptomatic residents to stop outbreaks before they start.

Thomas says more help will undoubtedly be needed, including from the federal government.

“We’re going to have to save ourselves. We need a national commission on the colors of COVID-19, one that addresses all people of color,” he said.

The trend of COVID-19 having a more severe impact on African Americans is also true for other minorities in the U.S.

Latinos account for 25% of coronavirus deaths but only 18% of the population. The severe outbreak in the Navajo Nation also indicates Native Americans may also be at greater risk.

New findings published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine hint that genetic factors could be in play.

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