Rate of coronavirus deaths and illness much higher among people of color

Dr. Michael Osterholm: "The challenge we have is understanding why?"

The Morning News with Dave Lee
April 08, 2020 - 6:00 pm
Coronavirus African American

(Getty Images / Maurian Soares Salvador)

Dr. Michael Osterholm, one of the world's leading experts on pandemics, addressed some new data that shows persons of color have been hit harder by COVID-19.

Talking to Dave Lee on the WCCO Morning News, Osterholm said, "I think there's been a lot made of the increased number of deaths among people of color, particularly among blacks, and this is really very true. It is actually happening. I think the challenge we have is understanding why?"

It's been especially dramatic in places like New York, Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans, where black residents make up over 70% of the deaths due to coronavirus.

"Right now, when we look at the data, looking for the underlining occurrence of heart disease, diabetes, and to some degree obesity, we see a higher rate of that in some of our communities of color," said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. 

RELATED: See all of WCCO coronavirus coverage here. 

Osterholm told Dave Lee that this deserves a lot more attention from the medical community.

"Not that it's not present in the white community, it is, but I think that at this particular time that we have to pay really close attention that because some cities right now like Chicago, where they're reporting more than 70% of the deaths are in in the black community. And so this is all the more reason why we really have to focus on those areas of prevention and trying to prevent people from getting infected. And so this is this is a huge challenge for us."

With controversy surrounding the use of masks, Osterholm again stressed they are not going to limit the spread of the virus.

"I, for one, believe that using these new cloths masks will have very little impact on this outbreak. And what I worry about is because we're now recommending that as a public health recommendation from the CDC, that's gonna basically cause a lot of pressure on our already existing very short supply off surgical mask that health care workers must have right now. Our healthcare workers are the first, second, and third lines of defense against this virus. So we have to do everything we can to protect health care workers."

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