MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - While COVID-19 is impacting everyone, new data shows black Americans in the Mid-South are being hit disproportionately hard.
Health experts say these numbers are important because it helps them track how the virus impacts different communities, so they can come up with better prevent and treatment plans.
The numbers also show how the virus exacerbates health care inequalities already present.
On Wednesday, Shelby County Health Officer Bruce Randolph shared the harsh reality that COVID-19 is having on African Americans in the Mid-South.
“While others may have a cold, we often experience pneumonia,” said Randolph.
For the first time, the health department released data that shows while blacks make up just over half of the county’s population, they make up 68 percent of coronavirus case and 71 percent of the deaths.
In Mississippi, it’s the same story.
“We have seen some racial disparities in the number of cases, and some racial disparities in our deaths as well,” said Dr. Paul Byers, Mississippi’s state epidemiologist.
Blacks make up 38 percent of Mississippi’s population, but 56 percent of confirmed cases and 72 percent of deaths.
Health experts say most people who’ve died had underlying health issues, which African-Americans suffer from at higher rates.
For instance, in Shelby County, 83 percent of those who died suffered from heart problems and high blood pressure; 39 percent had diabetes; and 22 percent were obese.
“We are all very much at risk, but it is having a profound impact on our minority communities,” said David Sweat, the chief of epidemiology at the Shelby County Health Department.
Health leaders say it shows a need for more testing, a need for more outreach and a need to dispel false information about the virus that spreads online.
“The myth that this virus was primarily a white person’s problem has been shattered,” said Randolph. “So, I plead with you, take this virus and the measures we have instituted seriously.”
The racial disparity is also present in Arkansas where African Americans make up 15 percent of the population, but 23 percent of the cases.