Black Californians account for 11% of state’s COVID-19 deaths but make up only 6% of the population

California
People enter the 88th Street Temple Church of God in Christ for an emergency food distribution on April 14, 2020 in Los Angeles. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

People enter the 88th Street Temple Church of God in Christ for an emergency food distribution on April 14, 2020 in Los Angeles. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

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The novel coronavirus has been disproportionally hitting California’s African American population, according to new data released Thursday.

Black Californians make up 6% of the state’s population but account for 11% of its coronavirus-related deaths and 7% of cases, according to the California Department of Public Health, which surveyed data for 65% of the state’s COVID-19 cases and 87% of deaths.

The findings echo numbers released by Los Angeles County, which found that African Americans account for 16% of COVID-19 patients who died and for whom race information was available. (Race information was available for only 390 of the county’s total of 455 coronavirus patients who have died and exclude cases from Pasadena and Long Beach, which have their own public health agencies.)

African Americans account for only 9% of the L.A. County’s population.

The county’s public health director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, has previously said that African Americans in L.A. County have “a disproportionate burden of illness going into a pandemic.”

L.A. County’s black residents are more likely to have higher rates of almost every illness the health department tracks, putting black communities at “much higher risk for serious illness and death from COVID-19,” Ferrer said.

As the county worked on stepping up testing for the virus, Ferrer explained that access was more scarce in some places than others and that officials have been working on bringing more clinics and testing sites to underserved communities.

“We’re working with our community partners to respond to the disproportionate number of deaths among African Americans,” Ferrer said Thursday in a news conference. “This includes addressing issues related to access to testing, health services and accurate information about COVID-19.”

The county recently opened up more coronavirus testing sites in South L.A., which has a population that is 38% black. A drive-up site also opened up Wednesday in Inglewood, where over 46% of residents are black.

The racial disparity found so far in California mirrors data from cities and counties across the United States. The U.S. Surgeon General last week said black people across the country are dying of COVID-19 at “an alarmingly high rate.”

A Washington Post analysis found that counties that are majority-black have three times the rate of coronavirus infections and nearly six times the rate of deaths as majority-white counties.

California’s data on coronavirus cases are still incomplete and as testing expands and officials get more information on all the people who died of the respiratory illness, the figures may change, the state’s health department said.

“Another group of heightened concern are Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, although the number of deaths in this population are small and therefore limits statistical comparison,” the state health department said.

The group accounts for 0.3% of California’s population but make up 1% of its COVID-19 deaths, according to numbers released Thursday.

California’s COVID-19 cases and deaths by race/ethnicity as of April 15, 2020. (California Department of Public Health)

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