State official: COVID-19 infecting black Mississippians at a higher rate, but why?

Published 9:52 am Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A state health official told reporters Monday the virus is impacting African Americans in Mississippi at a “little higher rate” than others in the state.

Jim Craig, senior deputy at the Mississippi State Department of Health, said Mississippi appears to be following the same trend other states across the nation are reporting.

The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards shared the data Monday that showed roughly 70% of the people who have died from coronavirus in Louisiana are black. The number is striking for a state where African-Americans make up only 32% of the population.

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The disproportionate impact of the virus is comparable to other parts of the U.S. that are reporting coronavirus data by race. Officials in Michiganm North Carolina and Illinois are all reporting relatively high rates of African Americans infected with COVID-19. Mississippi is not one of the states that is releasing demographic data related to the racial make-up of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Craig said he did not know why COVID-19 appears to be disproportionately affecting black Mississippians.

Louisiana officials, including Edwards,  also said they are researching the troubling trend and looking for ways to address the situation.

“Obviously, this is a big disparity and we’re going to try to figure out what that is attributable to and what we can do about that as quickly as possible,” Edwards said.

Advocates welcomed the decision to release the information, saying that it would help the public better comprehend the pandemic and how it was spreading through different communities.

“I’m glad the governor decided to release this data because it’s a conversation that’s been going on for some time now,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans told The Advocate. “It’s necessary to help us understand what’s taken place here.”

Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the state’s Office of Public Health, said there are “significant” health disparities between white and black Louisianans.

In Louisiana, two-thirds of those who died from coronavirus also had hypertension, nearly half had diabetes and one in four was either obese or suffered from chronic kidney disease.