Hispanic women meet black men

An old African American saying goes that when white people catch a cold, black people get pneumonia. This is usually meant in a figurative sense, for example when there is talk of an economic recession. As far as the corona pandemic is concerned, the saying can be understood literally. The data on the spread and consequences of the virus in the USA are still patchy. But after all that is known so far, it is clear: Black Americans die more often than average from Covid-19. The virus, it seems, is exacerbating the contrasts between black and white.

This is particularly evident in the large cities of the Midwest, which have now become hotspots for the virus. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, only 26 percent of the city's population is black. But they make up 73 percent of the fatalities. In Chicago, African Americans make up 32 percent of the population but 67 percent of the fatalities. In the state of Michigan, three-quarters of the deaths occurred in Detroit, a predominantly black city. The picture is repeated in the state of Louisiana in the south: 70 percent of the dead are blacks, although their share of the population is only 32 percent. Most of the victims lived in New Orleans.

The numbers are startling, but not surprising, to many health professionals. The differences in the state of health and health care of the black population have long been known, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases: "The corona crisis now throws a glaring light on how unacceptable that is." Black Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, spoke of numbers "that literally take my breath away. This is one of the worst I've seen in my time as Mayor."

In his press briefing on Tuesday, President Donald Trump also said that blacks were "three to four times" more affected by the corona virus than other sections of the population. "We're doing everything in our power to tackle the problem, and it's a huge problem. It's terrible."

For many black people, social distancing is a luxury

However, what the government can do in the short term is not entirely clear. There are many structural reasons for the suffering that Covid-19 causes among the black population. It starts with the fact that social distancing is a luxury for many black people that they cannot afford. Afro-Americans work more than average in those professions without which the country would not function at all in this crisis: They fill shelves in supermarkets, deliver parcels, drive delivery vans, buses and subways. These are jobs that cannot be outsourced to the home office - and which are increasingly exposing them to the virus.

In addition, many black people are medically undersupplied. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 11.5 percent of African Americans have no health insurance. For whites it is 7.5 percent. As a result, many black people either do not go to the doctor at all or only go very late because they cannot afford it. The lack of insurance coverage will increase - not only for blacks - if millions of Americans lose their jobs in the wake of the economic crisis. The majority of US citizens have health insurance through their employer.

In black areas, basic services are also often poor. For example, there is only one major hospital in the southeast of the capital Washington, which is predominantly African-American. In addition, extensive studies have shown that doctors tend to take the complaints of black patients less seriously. They order fewer exams and also prescribe poorer treatments.

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"In me you can see what it is like to grow up poor and black in America"

And then there is the dark chapter of the so-called Tuskegee experiment, which, according to some experts, explains why many blacks still do not trust the health system to this day. In Tuskegee, Alabama, from 1932 to 1972, the US authorities conducted a study of 400 black farm workers with syphilis. Officially, it should be about researching the natural course of the disease. Medication was withheld from the men, many suffered, died and passed the disease on to family members.

All of these factors exacerbate the most important problem: Blacks are probably not infected with the coronavirus more often than other population groups. But they particularly often suffer from previous illnesses, some of which remain untreated for years. In the pandemic this is now fatal for many. Numbers from Louisiana show that 66 percent of Covid-19 deaths were from high blood pressure. 43 percent had diabetes, 25 percent had heart or liver disease or were obese. Jerome Adams, a senior US health official, says he too has high blood pressure, asthma and heart failure. "In me you can see what it is like to grow up poor and black in America."

Anthony Fauci, US government immunologist, knows that. It is very sad that the corona pandemic is now hitting blacks so hard, he said this week. The only thing that can be done in the current situation is to give those affected the best possible care.