Selwyn Vickers 4 LRIt has been a little over three months since the first COVID-19 patient was diagnosed in the U.S. In that time, as the virus has spread across the country, some troubling but familiar patterns have emerged. As is often the case in a national crisis, longstanding inequities and disparities around race and socioeconomic status are magnified. Specifically, we are seeing alarming evidence that African-American communities and other minorities are suffering disproportionately high rates of infection and mortality from COVID-19.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen statistics coming out of numerous cities and states that should give us grave cause for concern:

  • According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, as of April 13, there are 62 confirmed deaths of COVID-19 patients. Of those, 53% are African-American, while the population of Alabama is 26% African-American. 
  • In Michigan, as of April 2, African-Americans accounted for 35% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of deaths, despite representing only 14% of the state’s population.
  • As revealed by ProPublica, as of April 3, African-Americans made up nearly half of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths, in a county whose population is 26% black. 
  • In Illinois, African-Americans make up 14% of the population but over 40% of COVID-19 deaths.
  • African-Americans in Charlotte, North Carolina, account for 44% of confirmed cases, but make up only 33% of the population.
  • In Louisiana, African-Americans represent 70% of deaths, but account for only 33% of the state’s population.

Recently, I was honored to lead a group of 14 African-American medical school deans and health care leaders in writing an op-ed calling attention to this critical issue. It was published online on April 10 by USA Today and in the newspaper's print edition on Monday, April 13. You can read it by clicking here. I hope you will take the time to read the op-ed and share it with your friends and colleagues.

What’s happening now in African-American and minority communities as they face down this pandemic is in large part the result of persistent health disparities driven by longstanding, unaddressed social and medical determinants of health. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief just how profoundly health care access and health outcomes are linked with an individual’s racial and socioeconomic status in the U.S. As we begin to move forward from the current crisis, all of us must commit to addressing these deep-seated inequities both to create a healthier, more just society and to better prepare our country for the next, inevitable pandemic.

Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS
Senior Vice President for Medicine
Dean, UAB School of Medicine
James C. Lee Jr. Endowed Chair
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Chair, The University of Alabama Health Services Foundation Board