Topline: Early findings on COVID-19 fatalities show two troubling trends: increased mortality among black Americans and among those who’ve experienced long-term exposure to air pollution—two overlapping demographics, according to the Harvard Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment.
Though data on race of coronavirus cases is too small and limited to draw sweeping conclusions, preliminary research shows black Americans disproportionately dying from COVID-19: accounting for 72% of fatalities in Chicago, 70% in Louisiana and 41% in Michigan, while many states (including New York) have yet to release statistics on race for tested populations and fatalities, according to the New York Times.
A new Harvard study found a significant overlap between COVID-19 fatalities and other conditions related to long-term air pollution exposure, showing that those who have lived in places with significant air pollution (cities) are 15% more likely to die from COVID-19 than those with the same health profile who live in less polluted areas.
“We have more reasons than I can count to address the inequity and harm associated with air pollution,” Dr. Aaron Bernstein interim director at Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment, told Forbes. “Exposure to air pollution is majorly affecting the risk of people dying from COVID-19 and we know that African Americans, in particular, are exposed to more air pollution than whites.”
Researchers say the early data showing high mortality among black Americans can be attributed to fact that this population is less likely to be insured, more likely to have preexisting medical conditions, less likely to be able to telework and more likely to be denied tests and proper treatment due to implicit biases, according to the New York Times.
According to the American Community Survey, 51% of black Americans live in cities or metropolitan areas, and those who do are more likely to be exposed to air pollution, according to a National Academy of Sciences study.
“The distribution of this terrible disease tells a story of resource inequality,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “Poverty is literally and figuratively killing us. . . . It is devastating black Chicago.”