Surgeon General says people of colour are getting hit harder by coronavirus because of social issues, not genetics or biology

Associated PressU.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Friday, April 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • Social issues, not genetics or biological factors, are contributing to the disproportionate impact coronavirus is having on black Americans, according to US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams.
  • “We do not think people of colour are biologically or genetically disposed to get COVID-19,” Adams said at the White House on Friday. “But they are socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure.”
  • In cities across the US, coronavirus is hitting black Americans and other racial minorities much harder than white people.
  • The population of Chicago is 30% black, for example, but black people make up 70% of the city’s coronavirus deaths.
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US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams on Friday said that communities of colour across the US are getting hit harder by coronavirus to due social issues, not because the are genetically or biologically predisposed.

“It’s alarming but it’s not surprising that people of colour have a greater burden of chronic health conditions,” Adams said at Friday’s White House coronavirus press briefing. “The chronic burden of medical ills is likely to make people of colour especially less resilient to the ravages of covid-19 and it’s possible – in fact, likely – the burden of social ills is also contributing.”

“We do not think people of colour are biologically or genetically disposed to get COVID-19,” Adams went on to say. “But they are socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure and to have a higher incidence of the very diseases that put you at risk for severe complications from coronavirus.”

In his comments on the disproportionate impact coronavirus is having on people of colour, Adams revealed that he carries around an inhaler in case of an asthma attack.

Adams did not specifically point to structural racism as a contributing factor, however, which a wide body of research suggests has contributed to persistent and pervasive health inequities among racial minorities.

The surgeon general also urged people of colour to avoid using alcohol and drugs in comments that a reporter later suggested offended some people online. “Do it for your abuela, do it for your grandaddy, do it for your Big Mama, do it for your pop pop,” Adams said.

After he was pressed on this language by Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour, Adams said he meant no offence and that he advises all Americans to avoid the use of substances.

Fauci: Coronavirus is ‘shining a bright light’ on ‘unacceptable’ health disparities for African Americans

The devastating impact coronavirus is having on people of colour has become one of the central topics of discussion in relation to how the US is handling the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious disease, at Tuesday’s White House press briefing said the crisis is “shining a bright light” on “unacceptable” health disparities for African Americans.

“When you’re in the middle of a crisis, like we are now with the coronavirus, it really does have, ultimately, shine a very bright light on some of the real weaknesses and foibles in our society,” Fauci said.

“As some of you may know, the greater proportion of my professional career has been defined by HIV/AIDS, and if you go back then during that period of time when there was extraordinary stigma – particularly against the gay community – and it was only when the world realised how the gay community responded to this outbreak with incredible courage and dignity and strength and activism, that I think that really changed some of the stigma against the gay community, very much so,” Fauci added.

“I see a similarity here because health disparities have always existed for the African American community,” he said. “But here again, with the crisis, how it’s shining a bright light on how unacceptable that is.”

Like Adams on Friday, Fauci on Tuesday said there were no biological reasons African Americans have been hit harder by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

People of colour across the US are dying from coronavirus at disproportionate rates

In cities across the US, black Americans make up a disproportionate number of those killed by the novel coronavirus. The population of Chicago is 30% black, but black people make up 70% of the city’s coronavirus deaths. Similarly, the population of Milwaukee is 26% black, but black people make up 66% of coronavirus deaths in the city.

In New York City, which is the epicentre of the crisis in the US, black people make up 9% of the population but 18% of the city’s coronavirus deaths. The Latino population of New York City is getting hit harder by the pandemic than any other racial group:Latinos make up 34% of all coronavirus deaths in America’s largest city, while making up 29 per cent of the population.

Coronavirus is also having a detrimental impact on the country’s largest Native American reservation – the Navajo Nation’s death toll is surpassing the casualty count in states with larger populations.

Though more data is needed to gain a full picture of why people of colour are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, contributing factors include lack of access to health care compared to other demographics as well as an increased likelihood of working in essential jobs that put them at risk during the pandemic. There are growing calls from congressional lawmakers for the federal government to release comprehensive data on the impact of coronavirus across racial groups.

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