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African Americans disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 across county and state

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African Americans represent 42% of COVID-19 deaths in Marion County, which translates to a death rate of 18 per 100,000 African Americans.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, released the initial numbers during a virtual town hall co-hosted by the Recorder and New America Indianapolis.

The death rate for African Americans is currently more than twice that of whites, who have made up 40% of deaths in Marion County. The death rate is based on relative population size.

Caine said the county health department will release more data “sometime this week.”

Africans Americans are 28.9% of the population in Marion County, according to census data.

Statewide, African Americans make up 17.6% of COVID-19 cases and 20.9% of deaths, adding Indiana to the growing list of places where African Americans are taking on a disproportionate amount of harm from the new coronavirus.

African Americans are 9.8% of the population in Indiana.

The state numbers are current as of April 15.

• CHART: Tracking COVID-19 in Indiana

The Indiana State Department of Health released the initial numbers April 10 and now displays daily updates on its website, but that is only statewide data.

Caine said there are “a number of reasons” for the disparity, including poverty and chronic medical illnesses such as asthma and kidney disease.

“Because of our poverty level we have in Marion County in the African American community, I may not have a primary care provider,” she said during the town hall. “I may get my medical care through the emergency rooms or urgent care, so it’s intermittent.”

Caine also noted doctors have implicit biases — contributing to medical racism — and said they need training to recognize those biases and how that impacts the health of their patients.

“We need to hold them accountable,” she said. “… They don’t mean any harm, some of them, they just really don’t know. They’ve never been educated. They don’t even realize they may be insulting a patient.”

The county and state health departments were under increasing pressure to release data about race, especially after other cities and states showed the general health disparities that have plagued African Americans were also showing up with COVID-19.

African Americans make up about a third of the populations in Chicago and Louisiana, but when they released race data earlier in April, it showed about 70% of those who had died from the virus were African American in both places.

In Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County, where about 27% of people are African American, 44 of the 67 people who had died from the virus as of April 9 were African American.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state’s top health official, said before Indiana’s numbers were released she expected the state to mirror those disparities found in other parts of the country.

It’s important to note that race is unknown for about 19% of cases and 6% of deaths at the state level. Box said the health department will continue to work with hospitals to fill in the missing data.

The reason some data is missing is because doctors who order tests fill out a form that includes race and ethnicity, and sometimes they check “unknown.” The state can go through other records to confirm that information.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

A woman wears a face mask in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo/Curtis Guynn)

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