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Protecting Everyone In America

Black people are about 7.2% of the COVID-19 cases diagnosed in West Virginia, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. They are only 3.2% of the state’s population. What does that tell you?

Not much, yet. What’s important is to find out why the coronavirus seems to be sickening black people so much more frequently than whites. I’m told the West Virginia NAACP, the president of which is Owens Brown of Wheeling, is looking into that and other COVID-19 issues.

What we know is that West Virginia is not alone. As of Friday, the nation as a whole had suffered more than 75,000 deaths from the epidemic. Of that total, 21.9% were black, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blacks comprise 13.4% of the U.S. population, so there’s a clear disparity.

Also according to the CDC, 16.6% of COVID-19 deaths have been among Hispanics or Latinos — not far from the 18.3% prevalence of that group in the nation’s population. By the way, the Census Bureau notes that Hispanics and Latinos can be of any race. Some are white, some are black, etc., so the numbers don’t add up to 100%.

Whites, with 76.5% of the population, are just 52.4% of COVID fatalities. Meanwhile, Asians are both 5.9% of the population and of the total deaths.

Perhaps because of the comparatively low number of coronavirus fatalities in our state, the CDC doesn’t have breakdowns for West Virginia.

It does for Ohio, however, where there is much less racial disparity than at the national level. About 13% of the state’s residents are black. They have been 14.2% of COVID deaths.

Various theories have been suggested to explain the imbalance of black deaths from the virus nationally. One possibility is that blacks may be more susceptible to the disease.

There are others, and they aren’t pleasant to contemplate. One of the more unpalatable is that blacks may not be getting the same level of medical treatment as whites. Another is that because income levels among blacks are, on average, lower than for whites, that may be a factor.

The quality of care idea doesn’t wash — at least from what we know now — in West Virginia because the imbalance is in COVID-19 infections, not deaths. Drawing fatality rate conclusions based on fewer than 100 deaths would be imprudent.

What’s going on, here?

COVID-19 is a bigger problem for black Americans than for whites. Why? Is it the virus, the physiology of its victims — or something else?

We need to know, whether we like the answer or not. COVID-19 may be back next fall. If it isn’t, rest assured some other bug will come after us. When it does, we need to be able to protect everyone against it to the very best of our ability.

Reach Myer at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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