African Americans in St. Louis County are about four times more likely to become sick from COVID-19 as white people, according to the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
The most recent data showed that 316 African Americans per 100,000 county residents become sick from COVID-19. About 80 white residents out of that population become sick with the disease. As of Friday, there were 70 deaths in the county.
Experts said a number of factors contribute to that disparity including a lack of affordable housing and how many African Americans work in service jobs. That can put African Americans at a greater risk for catching the coronavirus.
“National statistics show that African Americans are much more disproportionately in those sorts of jobs,” said Yusef Scoggin, director of the county’s Office of Family and Community Services. “That high number of interactions can certainly contribute to that statistic.”
Black Americans have suffered from social and economic inequality for more than a century, said Rob Gatter, St. Louis University School of Law professor.
“It’s poverty, it’s underlying poor health, it’s living in a ZIP code that’s a bit of a desert when it comes to transportation to get to health care services or to get to good food,” Gatter said. “It is sort of, across the board, foundational differences that we just see being revealed, or some of them being revealed.”
Scoggin said the St. Louis County is taking action to provide help for African Americans and disenfranchised communities, including publicizing where residents can seek coronavirus tests and working with organizations and food pantries that provide adequate nutrition.
“We’re utilizing much of the data that we’ve been collecting over a period of time to ensure that there is an equitable lens that is put on this to ensure that we’re focusing our efforts in the most impactful way,” Scoggin said.
Officials in St. Louis said they’re also working to help communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
African Americans make up the majority of those who test positive for the coronavirus in the city. As of Friday afternoon, African Americans make up about 65% of city residents who test positive for the coronavirus. The city has recorded 30 deaths.
“What you’ll see is a lack of access to resources such as modern-day redlining as well as a lack of sufficient housing, inequitable treatment as it relates to medical care,” said Dr. Fred Echols, director of the St. Louis Department of Health. “Which all leads us to these poor health outcomes that we’re seeing amongst these very particular populations.”
Echols said adding more testing sites and providing more information on personal protective equipment are some of the first steps that the city is taking taken during the pandemic. But, he said, after the crisis, the city must address inequity to ensure that African Americans are again not at greatest risk.
“When COVID-19 ends, a lot of the issues will continue to persist in our communities; heart disease, diabetes, asthma will continue to have a greater impact on these disenfranchised populations more so than others,” Echols said. “As we move forward, it’s really important for us to have the right people around the table but also engage them in a way that gives them a charge to address a lot of these issues.”
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