Posted on April 9, 2020

Black America Must Wake Up to This Viral Threat

Van Jones, CNN, April 6, 2020

At the start of any pandemic, early information can mislead. Unfortunately, for vulnerable populations, false assumptions can have deadly consequences.

African Americans are about to learn this awful truth — in devastating ways.

Two data points converged at the start of this crisis to make a lot of black folk shrug and think, “Coronavirus is not our problem.”

Myth #1: Covid-19 is a white disease.

The Americans who were initially diagnosed with the virus were mostly white. At the beginning of the epidemic, the media understandably focused on affluent white people who had traveled overseas, especially to Asia. The impact of this news coverage had African Americans joking among ourselves that perhaps we were somehow immune to the virus. As crazy as it sounds, a rumor took off that this was a disease that kills only white people.

It got so bad that Idris Elba, one of the first famous black victims of coronavirus, had to post a video begging black people to believe that people of African descent could get it, too. And yet, when I warned my family of the coming pandemic, my highly educated cousin told me, with great confidence: “No, we got the antibodies for that!”

My cousin’s reaction reminded me of the early days of the HIV epidemic, when people thought of AIDS as a “white, gay” disease. {snip}

Myth #2: Younger people are safe.

And yes — I did say “younger.” The second data point was that (in Asia and Europe) this disease has mostly killed older people. Since communities of color are statistically much younger than the white population, many thought this disease posed no particular threat to people of color.


Fact: Black communities are already reeling.

According to the most recent data available from Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, when compared with non-Hispanic white citizens in the US, African Americans are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, 20% more likely to die from heart disease, have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers, and represent 44% of the HIV positive population.

In fact, as the virus smashes into black communities, it is actually one epidemic jumping on top of several other epidemics. The sad fact is too many African Americans are not healthy or adequately insured on a good day. {snip} Black people are sicker than white people across the board.

And this virus may be especially fatal to people who have out-of-control hypertension — a disease that is nearly at epidemic levels in the black community. {snip}


{snip} We should expect to see black people dying at much younger ages and in much larger numbers than the nation’s leaders have been suggesting. And now the anecdotal evidence is pouring in.

  • In New York City, data from the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development is showing the communities hit hardest by the pandemic are the lower-income communities in the outer boroughs, where a higher percentage of the population is black or brown and many residents work service industry jobs.
  • In Michigan (one of the few states tracking data on Covid-19 and race) so far, African Americans account for 33% of cases and 40% of deaths.
  • According to the Charlotte Observer, data from Mecklenburg County (which houses Charlotte) shows approximately 44% of the population with Covid-19 is African American, while the county itself is only 33% black.
  • Milwaukee County is 27% black, yet the first eight people who died in the area because of coronavirus were African American. As of Friday, 81% of the 27 deaths in the county were black people. Almost half of the 945 cases are African American.
  • In Illinois, African Americans make up 28% of confirmed cases, and only 14.6% of the population.
  • In Memphis, most of the screening is missing the poor, black communities and instead is focused in affluent suburbs according to a heat map that shows where coronavirus testing is taking place.
    In Philadelphia, the highest percentages of positive tests are consistently coming from ZIP codes that have a large minority population.


Here are the things black media, influencers and leaders can call for:

1. Warn black people the threat to their health is significant.


2. We need to demand racial data.


3. Call for people to be released from prisons and jails.


4. Black churches should stop holding services, and offer our houses of worship as shelter for people seeking refuge.