Orange County government officials requested demographic data analyzing COVID-19 patients in the county after data was released at the state and national level showing African Americans may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on April 8 that found 89.3 percent of the hospitalized patients included in the study had underlying conditions, and the most common conditions included high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Approximately 33 percent of the hospitalized patients included in the study were African American.
“We do know that communities of color will bear a disproportionate burden of this virus in the long term,” said Kristin Prelipp, communications manager at the Orange County Health Department.
Prelipp said minorities are more likely to be employed as essential employees, which would leave them more open to exposure to coronavirus. She said these communities experience disproportionate rates of chronic disease like high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma that puts individuals at high risk of severe illness after developing COVID-19.
“We cannot refer to these high rates of chronic disease without mentioning that African American communities also typically experience poverty, food deserts, gentrification, red-lining and environmental and systemic institutional racism at higher rates as well,” Prelipp said.
Data released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services shows African Americans make up 38 percent of both the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the state. Comparatively, African Americans make up about 22 percent of the population in North Carolina, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.
Renee Price, vice-chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said she had a conversation with Carrboro Town Council Member Barbara Foushee about how COVID-19 has affected African Americans nationwide. Price said during the conversation, they realized they did not have any information about what was happening locally in Orange County.
“After that phone call, I drafted a letter and sent it to our elected officials here in Orange County that are African American or Asian American,” Price said.
She said the other officials signed on to the letter, and she was pleased to receive a quick response from Quintana Stewart, the Orange County health director.