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UConn Health doctor publishes first study on COVID-19 and race

Pre-existing conditions also a factor

HARTFORD, Conn. — You may have heard how COVID-19 is hitting the black community hard. But how deep does that impact go? For starters, the average age of a death related to COVID-19 is 81. But for the black community, it’s 72. Already disproportionately affected by poverty, incarceration, and access to healthcare, now the black community is being impacted by the virus.

UConn Health Dr. Cato Laurencin and his team have published the first peer-reviewed study anywhere on how COVID-19 is impacting the black community. "Interestingly, in social media, there was a myth being promulgated that blacks may be immune to the Coronavirus," he said. The myth started after the first black person to be infected by the novel Coronavirus. It was a student from Cameroon who was studying in China. He recovered from the virus. It led to social media myths that the black community was immune. Some fake science even claimed the very chemical that contributes to dark skin was what gave them protection.

Twelve percent of the Connecticut population is black, with high concentrations in densely populated urban areas making those in the black community more susceptible to infection. "But also the fact is that those in the black and Latino communities. A smaller percentage have jobs that allow them to be able to work from home. A bus driver, someone delivering mail, a janitor at an apartment building," remarked Dr. Laurencin.

They are also more susceptible to deadly health complications. Howard Hill is the owner of two predominantly black funeral homes. "There are typically some underlying health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes that are fairly routine," said Hill.

According to the most recent data, 2002 people in Connecticut’s black community are confirmed to have been infected by COVID-19. 202 people have died. When you break those numbers down per 100,000 people you can see the disparity of infections and deaths compared to other races and ethnicity.

At a recent news conference, Gov. Ned Lamont said, "I was a little sad to see that of those tests, while Caucasian’s tested positive about 8%, African Americans tested positive about 30 or 35 percent. We are going to do our best to make sure we have testing available for all our people especially those in the most diverse communities in our cities."

The data is prompting Dr. Laurencin to call for the creation of a national commission on COVID-19 racial disparities. "Really create a national concerted effort to really understand Coronavirus not just in the black or Latino community but also the short and long term consequences that will be taking place with the Coronavirus," he said.

It’s not the first time a virus has impacted the black community in a more severe way. African Americans account for 42% of new HIV infections.

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