Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
The death rate in the US from Covid-19 among African Americans and Latinos is rising sharply, exacerbating the already staggering racial divide in the impact of the pandemic which has particularly devastated communities of color.
New figures compiled by the Color of Coronavirus project shared with the Guardian show that both total numbers of deaths and per capita death rates have increased dramatically in August for black and brown Americans. Though fatalities have also increased for white Americans, the impact on this group has been notably less severe.
The latest figures record that in the two weeks from 4 to 18 August the death rate of African Americans shot up from 80 to 88 per 100,000 population – an increase of 8 per 100,000. By contrast the white population suffered half that increase, from 36 to 40 per 100,000, an increase of 4 per 100,000.
For Latino Americans the increase was even more stark, rising from 46 to 54 per 100,000 – an increase of 9 per 100,000.
The new batch of statistics is a cause for concern on a number of levels. The death rate for all racial and ethnic groups had been falling through the summer but after the virus began surging through the south and midwest in July it produced a time-lagged spike in deaths in August that has driven the human suffering back up to previous grim heights.
“We are seeing more deaths among African Americans and Latinos than at any time this summer. So as we go into the fall, with schools and colleges reopening and other new avenues for exposure, it portends a very frightening future,” said Andi Egbert, senior researcher with APM Research Lab, the non-partisan research arm of American Public Media that compiles the data.
On 18 August, the latest date on which the researchers have crunched the numbers, almost 36,000 African Americans had died from Covid-19. The new uptick means that 1 in 1,125 black Americans have died from the disease, compared with 1 in 2,450 white Americans – half the rate.
That striking disparity underlines a major failing at the heart of the US response to Covid. It has been known now for several months that the virus is extracting an especially punishing toll among communities of color, yet federal and state governments have not taken steps effectively to ameliorate the disaster.
“It’s not breaking news that black and Latino communities are suffering and dying from Covid-19 in much higher rates than white Americans. But as the months drag on we see the death rates continuing to be much higher and even accelerating for vulnerable groups,” Egbert said.
She added: “It’s incredibly discouraging to know that we are aware of where the greatest vulnerabilities are and yet we’ve been ineffectual in our responses.”
The total number of deaths in the US now stands at more than 189,000, the largest number of any country in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker. The toll is likely to pass the landmark 200,000 within the next two weeks, with the number of confirmed cases of infection at 6.3m.
The grossly unequal impact of the disease could be a factor in the outcome of the presidential election in November. Donald Trump has claimed he has the best track record of any president since Abraham Lincoln in terms of improving the lot of African Americans, but his mishandling of the pandemic has produced hard data on the number of black lives lost that is hard to argue away.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the main US public health agency, continues to publish statistics on coronavirus that is not only out of date but withholds information on the racial breakdown of illness and death. That is why APM Research Lab has stepped in to fill the void – gathering its own information from individual states and compiling a database on the Color of Coronavirus in the absence of CDC figures.
“We do this work because of the vacuum that exists,” Egbert said.
Its latest data highlights especially sharp rises in death rates were recorded in August among black communities in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina; and among Latinos in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Dr Ala Stanford, a pediatric surgeon and founder of the Black Doctors Covid-19 Consortium, recently shared her thoughts about the race disparities with Color of Coronavirus. She said she witnessed every day in the community the discrepancies that lie behind the sobering statistics.
“Hearing the barriers people face getting a Covid-19 test and or attempts to be treated; listening to people speak about their loved ones dying after having prolonged symptoms unattended; people who share stories of many in a home being ill and trying to isolate and quarantine in tight, small spaces; elderly people without a referral from a doctor being turned away for testing.”
Stanford concluded: “To hear that African Americans represent 12 to 13% of the population but 23 to 24% of the deaths is unacceptable in a developed nation.”