by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
As the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in Allegheny County, the New Pittsburgh Courier has spotted a disturbing, but not surprising trend — African Americans here are being affected at a higher rate than its county population percentage makeup.
Following an outcry in the past two weeks from Black community leaders in Pittsburgh demanding that accurate racial data on coronavirus cases in Allegheny County and Pennsylvania would begin, Allegheny County responded almost immediately with the racial data.
But because many of the early COVID-19 test results that come to the Allegheny County Health Department through the Pa. National Electronic Disease Surveillance System didn’t contain information on race, the county doesn’t have racial data on roughly 380 positive cases in the county. However, the county was able to compile that out of the 650 cases for which race is known, 159 of the cases were African Americans, as of Sunday, April 19.
The county was able to track the racial data more closely for those who’ve been hospitalized or died in the county from coronavirus.
As of April 19, at least 39 of the 180 hospitalizations in the county were African Americans, or 22 percent. One hundred twenty-five hospitalizations were Whites, three were classified as Asian, and 16 were unknown.
Only two African Americans had died out of the 24 total deaths in Allegheny County, according to the Health Department, as of April 13. But as the number of deaths reported took a sizable jump between April 14 and April 19, there are now at least seven African Americans in the county who’ve died from coronavirus, out of 50 total deaths (14 percent), as of Sunday, April 19. White deaths totaled 28, and 15 deaths were classified as unknown.
African Americans compose roughly 12 percent of Allegheny County.
As of Sunday, April 19, there were 32,284 total positive cases of coronavirus in the state of Pennsylvania, with 1,112 total deaths. The state recently began tracking the racial data of its cases, and while there’s no racial data on 23,570 cases, the remaining 8,704 positive cases revealed that 2,792 of those were African Americans and 5,523 were Whites. Two hundred ninety were Asians and 109 were classified as other. The state doesn’t have racial data for nearly 500 deaths. But of the 623 deaths for which race is known, 150 were African Americans, 375 were Whites, 14 were Asian, and 109 were classified as other.
“It seems to be generally agreed upon that the extreme poverty rates in African American communities across the country, along with the health care disparities, high levels of diabetes, respiratory problems, hypertension, and the more crowded living conditions in many of these neighborhoods, contribute to many individuals within Black communities to be more vulnerable to attacks from the coronavirus,” read a letter signed by Tim Stevens, Chairman & CEO of The Black Political Empowerment Project, Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, Richard A. Stewart Jr., President, NAACP Pittsburgh branch, and Jasiri X, CEO/Co-Founder, 1 HOOD Media. “These factors, which are certainly in existence throughout Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Pennsylvania, and the reports listed above, cause us to call upon our political leaders to take this opportunity to do whatever must be done to provide statistics with regard to racial breakdown relative to the impact of coronavirus and to use this virus as another opportunity to begin to identify solutions to the ongoing disparities based on race.”
The letter, sent to Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and City Council members, also read: “With the echoes of the Sept. 17, 2019, report released by the University of Pittsburgh, the City of Pittsburgh and its Gender Equity Commission still in our minds, which vividly described the racial inequities in the City of Pittsburgh when compared to other cities across the nation, and the report of 2010 which listed the Pittsburgh Region as 40th out of 40 regions in the nation with regard to the conditions of Black children and the Black working poor still in our memories, we feel the time is now to analyze ‘the why’ of these devastating conditions.”
The New Pittsburgh Courier reported in its April 8 edition the vast, disproportionate figures that were revealed pertaining to Blacks and COVID-19 throughout the country. And in the Courier’s April 15 edition, the data made available at the time (as of April 14) saw African Americans in the county seeing a far less death rate from coronavirus when compared to their overall population percentage in the county. That bucked a trend of Blacks dying at a much higher rate in places like Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Detroit.
However, the latest data from Allegheny County shows that as of Sunday, April 19, Blacks are being affected in Allegheny County from COVID-19 at an increasing rate than its population percentage makeup. With at least seven of the 50 deaths in Allegheny County being African Americans (at least 14 percent) and at least 159 of the 1,035 cases in the county (at least 15 percent), both percentages are higher than the 12 percent Black makeup of Allegheny County. It’s an even higher number for hospitalizations, as Blacks in the county account for at least 22 percent of all hospitalizations.
Rob Taylor Jr. is the managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.