African Americans struggle with disproportionate COVID death tollchevron-down

Photograph by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn
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Creating a toxic storm of death and illness, the pandemic is devastating black communities across the United States and revealing the deadly legacy of inequality.

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Coronavirus is ravaging every part of Warren Bell’s life in New Orleans. His 81-year-old cousin was hospitalized with COVID-19. His youngest daughter is furloughed from her culinary job at a major hotel because of the pandemic. His oldest daughter, a nurse, is doing 12-hour shifts at New Orleans East Hospital “where COVID-19 patients started dying weeks ago.”

“One of the nursing staff died over a week ago and her supervisor was on quarantine. So naturally, I worry every day about her,” says Bell, a former TV news anchor and radio host. A football coach at the school where his wife works, and a long-time friend, jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis, recently died from the disease. “This is scary stuff,” he says.

In urban centers large and small across the U.S., the novel coronavirus is devastating African American communities. The environments where most live, the jobs they have, the prevalence of health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and how they are treated by the medical establishment have created a toxic storm of severe illness and death. (These common, underlying conditions make coronavirus more severe.)

In cities, counties, and states that are reporting racial data, the impact of coronavirus on the black community has been extraordinary and disproportionate. Almost one-third of infections nationwide have affected black Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, though blacks represent only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Likewise, nearly one-third of those who have died across the country are black, according...

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