Some higher rate of black coronavirus fatalities was predictable, albeit still tragic, given what we know about viral co-morbidities
It was just a matter of time before the coronavirus was leveraged as a tool of race politics. With the US presidential campaign in suspension, Democratic broadsides against America’s white supremacy have lost a valuable outlet. Now, however, the media, politicians, and race activists have found a new theme: ‘Black Americans Bear The Brunt‘ of COVID-19 deaths, as the New York Times put it.
America’s medical personnel have gone overnight from being heroes to being bigots. Three failed presidential contenders — Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker, joined by Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Robin Kelly — have asked the CDC and the FDA to investigate doctors’ ‘implicit biases’. Joe Biden joined the coronavirus racism fray on April 9 with a denunciation of the ‘structural racism’ — amplified by the pandemic — that is ‘built into so much of our daily lives, our institutions, our laws, and our communities’.
Like most race rhetoric, this latest indictment of America’s purported bigotry leaves out some essential facts.
The New York Times reports that in Illinois, ‘43 percent of people who have died from the disease and 28 percent of those who have tested positive are African Americans, a group that makes up just 15 percent of the state’s population. African Americans, who account for a third of positive tests in Michigan, represent 40 percent of deaths in that state even though they make up 14 percent of the population. In Louisiana, about 70 percent of the people who have died are black, though only a third of that state’s population is.’ ProPublica reported on April 3 that blacks made up 81 percent of deaths in Milwaukee County, which is only 26 percent black. According to the Times’s sources, those disparities reflect ‘longstanding structural inequalities’ and the stress of racial discrimination.
But those state- and countywide comparisons are misleading. Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans contain the vast majority of coronavirus cases in their respective states. That urban concentration of infection is not a function of racism. It is present globally, given the greater ease of viral transmission in areas of high population density. Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans contain a much higher proportion of black residents than the state-wide population — about a third in Chicago, over 78 percent in Detroit, and 60 percent in New Orleans. Likewise, the vast majority of deaths in Milwaukee County were in Milwaukee city, which is 39 percent black. Half of the infected in Milwaukee city were black. Whites who live in cities tend to be wealthier and more educated than the white average, creating a greater class-based behavioral divide with urban blacks.
Whatever the population benchmark, some higher rate of black coronavirus fatalities was predictable, albeit still tragic, given what we know about viral co-morbidities. In Italy, as of March 17, 76 percent of the deceased had hypertension, 35 percent were diabetic, and 33 percent had coronary artery disease. The victims have an average of 2.7 pre-existing health conditions; only three people out of 2,003 decedents had no preexisting conditions.
This pattern has continued in the US. Among the 19 deaths in Milwaukee County as of April 2, at least 11 victims had diabetes, eight had hypertension and 15 had a mixture of chronic health conditions that included heart and lung disease. In New York City, among the 3,031 virus decedents whose prior health status was known as of April 8, 98 percent had underlying conditions that ranged from diabetes to hypertension and immunodeficiency.
The rate of those diseases among black Americans is much higher than in the population at large. The diabetes rate among black adults was 66 percent higher than among white adults in 2017, according to the CDC. The hypertension rate was 49 percent higher and the obesity rate, 25 percent higher. In 2018, blacks accounted for 42 percent of new HIV diagnoses, according to the CDC, though blacks are about 12 percent of the nation’s population. This HIV disparity is due in part to higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
African Americans’ response to recent public health dictates has been less punctilious than in the population at large. There was ‘natural pushback’ against shelter-in-place orders, as ProPublica put it discreetly. There was the widely-circulated theory that melanin protects blacks from the disease. Non-compliance has been so pervasive that Dr Anthony Fauci, in the White House’s April 8 press briefing, said that he pleaded ‘particularly with our brothers and sisters in the black community’ to protect the elderly from infection by observing social distancing.
The identitarian left has a single response to all of these facts: racism. If blacks have higher rates of the underlying diseases that lead both to coronary and to coronavirus deaths, that is due to systemic bias. But while economic inequality and unequal community resources are real, and society must work relentlessly to ensure equality of opportunity, those underlying maladies have a large behavioral component that remains within individual control. Black people tend to be poorer, and poor people exercise less and smoke more, according to the CDC. It is not compassionate to constantly drill home the message that members of favored victim groups are incapable of determining the shape of their lives. Underclass whites have similar health problems because they, too, are making bad lifestyle choices. And they will be similarly overrepresented among coronavirus fatalities.
Camara Phyllis Jones, an epidemiologist and visiting fellow at Harvard University, spent 13 years at the CDC identifying purported racial biases within the medical system, part of a vast STEM grievance project funded by the CDC, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes for Health. ‘This is the time to name racism as the cause’ of all disparities, coronavirus-related or otherwise, Jones told ProPublica. ‘It’s because we’re not valued.’
On a similar note, Sens. Warren, Harris, and Booker asserted in their March 27 letter to Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar that there were ‘racial disparities in our nation’s response to the coronavirus disease’. They provided no evidence of such disparities, but nevertheless warned that blacks may not be tested for COVID-19 because of the ‘implicit biases that every…medical professional carr[ies] around with them.’
These assertions of implicit bias or outright disregard would surprise emergency room doctors and nurses, black and white, who work desperately to save the lives of black and white people every day.
There is one disparity, however, that does deserve immediate attention. Shelter-in-place orders are a luxury of the professional elites, who can easily transfer their work from an office to their home, despite the woe-is-me chronicles from homebound journalists, scriptwriters, foundation executives, and lawyers. These virtuous advocates for the most draconian and prolonged of shut downs have seen their 401(k)s dwindle, but they will not lose their livelihoods or the entirety of their savings. It is the low-income workers of all races who may never get their jobs back if the economic moratorium lasts even half as long as the media’s favorite public health experts now eagerly advocate. Their losses are already devastating. Anyone who cared about inequality would be pushing to open parts of the economy now before the damage to national and world stability becomes irreversible.
Meanwhile, the current racialization of disease will further rend America’s civic fabric. If the Democrats take control of the White House and the legislature in November, the existing pressure on medical schools to admit students, hire faculty, and select clinical research teams on the basis of race will grow exponentially. More millions of taxpayer dollars will be sucked into CDC and National Science Foundation-supported studies of purported microaggressions in the medical field. Democrats have been using the pandemic to realize their most cherished big government schemes. It will only complicate our response to the crisis now that big racism has gotten into the act.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion. Follow her on Twitter here.
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