It has long been clear that African Americans have experienced high rates of coronavirus infection, hospitalization, and death during the pandemic.
But those factors are now leading experts to sound the alarm about what comes next: a prolonged prevalence of Covid in the black community and a lack of access to treatment.
covid long — with chronic symptoms such as fatigue, cognitive problems and others that last for months after an acute covid-19 infection has subsided has left researchers stumped, with many working hard to find a treatment for people who experience it. But health experts warn that crucial data is missing: Black Americans have been insufficiently included in long-running Covid trials, treatment programs and registries, according to the authors of a new report released Tuesday.
“We expect there will be higher barriers to accessing available resources and services for long-term COVID,” said one of the authors, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the office of health equity at Yale University and former chair of the President Biden’s Health Equity Task Force.
“The pandemic is not over, it is not over for anyone,” said Dr. Núñez-Smith. “But the reality is that it’s certainly not over in black America.”
The report, called State of Black America and Covid-19, describes how disinvestment in health care in black communities contributed to blacks contracting Covid at higher rates than whites. Back then, black people were more likely to face serious illness or death as a result.
the Black Coalition Against CovidYale School of Medicine and Morehouse School of Medicine authored the report, which also offers recommendations to political leaders.
In the first three months of the pandemic, the average weekly case rate per 100,000 black Americans was 36.2, compared with 12.5 for white Americans, the authors write. The hospitalization rate for blacks was 12.6 per 100,000 compared to 4 per 100,000 for whites, and the death rate was also higher: 3.6 per 100,000 compared to 1.8 per 100,000.
“The severity of COVID-19 among African Americans was the predictable result of structural and social realities, not differences in genetic predisposition,” the report says.
African Americans were overrepresented in essential worker positions, increasing the risk of exposure to the virus, the authors write. And they were also more likely than white Americans to live in multigenerational households or crowded spaces, be incarcerated, or live in densely populated areas.
Many African Americans who contracted the coronavirus experienced serious illness due to preexisting conditions such as obesity, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease, which were often the result of “differential access to high-quality care and health promotion resources,” the report says.
Many experts saw the authorization of the first coronavirus vaccines as a light at the end of the tunnel, but new disparities have emerged, fueled by both vaccine hesitancy and limited access to injections.
Although the vaccine gap has narrowed since then — 80 percent of black Americans were fully vaccinated in January, compared to 83 percent of white Americans — the report says, disparities remain.
“We understand that there is still work to be done to save and protect our communities from the Covid-19 pandemic,” wrote Dr. Reed Tuckson, who in April 2020 co-founded the Black Coalition Against Covid.
And when it comes to unfinished work, the most important thing is the long Covid.
“A lot of even getting a long Covid diagnosis is tied to having had a positive test early on,” Dr. Nunez-Smith said, adding that early in the pandemic, many African Americans “were unable to secure a test and , in some cases, they were denied the test.”
He stressed the importance of investing adequate resources in the long-Covid study. “Like everything else, unintentionally, we’re not going to get to fairness there,” he said.
March 29, 2022
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the average rate of weekly COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths among African Americans in the first three months of the pandemic. They were rates per 100,000 inhabitants, not percentages. An earlier version also included outdated figures provided by the Black Coalition Against Covid that the organization revised after publication.