Giulia Carella

COVID-19 Inequality in the US: How Coronavirus is killing more Black Americans

The COVID Racial Data Tracker gathers the most complete race and ethnicity data on COVID-19 in the United States. Race and ethnicity data are reported by state, both for the number of the positive cases and the number of deaths.

This information is really valuable to understand the impact of COVID-19 on different racial communities, given the health and socio-economic disparities dividing the United States that led to a reignition of the #blacklivesmatter movement and protests following George Floyd’s tragic death.

We can use this data to calculate the mortality risk from COVID-19 for Black Americans compared to the rest of the US population for each state. Black Amercans represent approximately 13% of the US population, but many US sources are reporting high racial disparities in the thousands of lives claimed by COVID-19.

Here, using the data available from the COVID Racial Data Tracker, we calculated the mortality risk from COVID-19 for Black Americans in each state as the odds ratio of COVID-19 deaths for Black Americans and the rest of the US population

$OR =\dfrac{D_{Black}/D_{non-Black}}{ND_{Black}/ND_{non-Black}}$

where $D$ is the number of deaths for the Black and non-Black population respectively, and $ND$ represents the population (Black and non-Black) that either survived or did not contract the virus. $ND$ was calculated assuming that all COVID-19 related deaths had been reported and was derived as the difference between the number of deaths for Black(non-Black) Americans and the 2019 estimates for the Black(non-Black) American population, available from our Data Observatory as provided by Applied Geographic Solutions.

Following this framework, we estimated that on average, Black Americans have a 1.5 higher mortality rate by state than the rest of the US population, although different states can show large differences, as shown in this map:

From this map, some interesting results emerge: while we would expect the highest mortality risk for Black Americans to be in states with the largest percentage of Black Americans, which are located in the South-East coast, the states with the highest mortality risk concentrated in the MidWest (Kansas, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Michigan) and in Washington, D.C.

It is important to note that these estimates likely underestimate the true mortality rate, as we didn’t adjust by age, since the breakdown of COVID-19 deaths by race and age is not available. In fact, on the one hand, deaths involving COVID-19 are more numerous in people aged 65 years and over, and on the other hand the age distribution for White Americans is skewed to older ages than for Black Americans, as reported in this research.

Further differences are expected within states, as this map showing the largest racial group by county suggests:

As is highlighted in the COVID Racial Data Tracker, despite the majority of the counties being predominantly populated by White Americans, when we look at the counties with the highest level of deaths per capita, many are predominantly Black.

This on-the-surface data opens the door for questions on why this pandemic is affecting our Black community and requires investigation. CARTO stands in solidarity with the community against racism, hate, and injustice. For that reason, we would encourage any nonprofit organization looking to visualize data or perform similar geospatial analysis to achieve racial equality to apply to our grants program.

About the author
Giulia Carella

Data Scientist at CARTO.

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