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Coronavirus Affecting African Americans at Disproportionate Rate
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The Coronavirus is affecting a disproportionate number of African Americans across the country. And as MPB’s Alexandra Watts reports, In Mississippi, health disparities and poverty are some of the contributing factors to the high rate.

African Americans across the country and in Mississippi are dying at an alarming rate from the coronavirus.

“Right now, we’re looking at about 50 percent, maybe a little bit more, of cases occurring in African Americans,” state epidemiologist Doctor Paul Byers said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“We’re also seeing 50 percent of the deaths occurring in African Americans. This is troubling.”

Troubling, but not shocking.

“We have seen some racial disparities in the number of cases and some racial disparities in our deaths as well,” said Dr. Byers.

Across the country, In areas where African Americans make up a fraction of the population, they make up the majority of deaths from the virus.

Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity play a large role in these deaths.

In the Mississippi Delta, health disparities are high for African Americans. Generational poverty, food insecurity and a lack of transportation -- problems that stem from hundreds of years of systemic racism -- continue to plague the region.

Pam Chatman is a community activist who lives in Bolivar County where 64 percent of the 30 thousand residents are African American. For years, she’s focused on issues of poverty and inequality.

With the urgency of the coronavirus, communities cannot wait to take action.

“It is a very heartbreaking situation,” Chatman said. “There are a lot of African Americans here in the Mississippi Delta that are suffering from COVID-19 and a lot of their family members are looking direction and looking for answers. It’s time for the black community to come together for real, for real.”

As of Tuesday, more than 1,900 Mississippians tested positive for the coronavirus with 59 deaths, and 460 of those positive tests and 17 deaths were from people who live in the Mississippi Delta.

Epidemiologist Doctor Paul Byers says one way to help lower those numbers is by testing.

“Well, certainly testing needs to occur. And we’ll have those discussions to make sure that we have testing available. We need to be able to identify those cases. We need to be able to get those cases isolated, get their contacts quarantined and protect those individuals who are at highest risk.”

Hospital officials say since 2010, six rural hospitals in the state have closed. And according to County Health Rankings, 14 percent of Mississippians are uninsured.

But for those who are uninsured, the 2 trillion dollar CARES Act recently passed by Congress is expected to pay for Coronavirus expenses.

During yesterday’s press conference, Governor Tate Reeves says lack of finances should not be a barrier for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

“What I would say to the people of Mississippi is, do not allow the financial challenges that were either pre-existing before COVID-19 or that are now a challenge because of the economic disaster that is before us…do not allow that to keep you from seeking help.”

Governor Reeves said Mississippi will reach its peak of COVID-19 cases in the next two weeks. Health officials say the state can expect many more deaths from the contagious virus.

And as the death count grows, community leaders are wondering how many more African Americans will lose their lives at a disproportionate rate.