As COVID-19 spreads across the United States, gathering the racial data about who is dying has proven to be a challenge. But today, Michigan’s Health Department reported that Black Americans account for fully 40% of those who have died, the Detroit Free Press reports. Just 14% of the state’s population is Black.
Priscilla Michelle Mpasi, MD, FAAP, Attending Physician at the Division of Community Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is saddened by the numbers—but not surprised. “Economic discrimination and discrimination in healthcare are apparent. African Americans are over-represented in service industries that continue to be on call as much of the nation is sheltering in place,” she offered. “Many are the sole supporters of families without the flexibility to telecommute. Also at risk are our grandparents who’ve stepped in to help with childcare.”
Dr. Mpasi, citing existing data about the differences in the way White and Black patients are treated, further noted that, “We know that White patients’ pain is interpreted far more often as true pain, as opposed to Black patients’ pain. We can surmise that that kind of discrimination may also be true with patients who present at a hospital with respiratory distress. Black patients’ distress may not be perceived as severe, causing delayed treatment.”
We are seeing these racially disparate outcomes across the nation. According to Insight News, “in Wisconsin, as of this past Friday (March 27) of the state’s 14 COVID-19 deaths, eight of the victims were Black. That’s 57 percent of all Wisconsin deaths in a state where the Black population is just 6.7 percent.”
While viruses do not discriminate, the United States healthcare system does. And given that governors across the South—where 58% of all Black Americans live—failed to undertake prophylactic measures in a timely fashion, the need for action by Black legislators and others couldn’t be more urgent. Our families’ lives are at stake.
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