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African Americans 'disproportionately affected' by coronavirus, CDC report finds

Obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, all more prevalent in African American communities, are risk factors for coronavirus outcomes.
EMTs bring a patient into Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 6, 2020.Bryan R. Smith / AFP - Getty Images

Severe cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, are disproportionately affecting African American communities, according to a report published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The analysis includes data from 1,482 coronavirus patients hospitalized in 14 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah.

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Among the 580 patients for whom race or ethnicity information was available, 45 percent were white and 33 percent were black.

When researchers factored in the racial breakdowns of people living in those 14 states, disparities became apparent.

Despite accounting for more than a third of the cases, African Americans make up just 18 percent of those states’ populations.

In contrast, the white population in those states is 59 percent, yet accounts for only 45 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 cases in the CDC report.

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"We don't think African Americans are more susceptible to getting infected," Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said Wednesday on NBC's "TODAY" show.

But she said her group was "very concerned" when it became clear that pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and asthma were associated with worse outcomes of the coronavirus.

Those underlying conditions tend to be more prevalent in communities of color, a finding that's been well documented in recent years.

But those stark differences become more apparent when the world is focused on an illness, in this case, the coronavirus.

Nearly 90 percent of those hospitalized patients in the CDC report had an underlying condition, with hypertension and obesity most commonly reported.

Other chronic health conditions that tended to accompany severe COVID-19 infections were lung disease, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

"The roots of health disparity based in racial and socio-economic status are long and deep-seeded, ranging from pre-existing health conditions to access to health care," Dr. Ben Singer, assistant professor of medicine in pulmonary and critical care at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said.

"A lot of this is being amplified because we're in the middle of a pandemic," Singer added.

Indeed, the Chicago Department of Public Health finds 51.8 percent of coronavirus cases are among black residents, which is more than twice the rate of other groups.

What's more, nearly 70 percent of deaths from coronavirus in Chicago are among African Americans, even though that group makes up only a third of the city's population.

"Those numbers take your breath away," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said this week.

The CDC report found the risk of hospitalization, regardless of race or ethnicity, grew with age, with 74.5 percent over 50 years old.

Researchers also confirmed patterns previously noted by other doctors caring for COVID-19 patients, that patients tend to be hospitalized about seven days after they start to develop symptoms.

"The most common signs and symptoms at admission included cough (86.1 percent), fever or chills (85 percent), and shortness of breath (80 percent)," the CDC study authors wrote.

Patients also reported gastrointestinal problems; 26.7 percent had diarrhea, according to the CDC report, and 24.4 percent had nausea or vomiting.

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