The African American community is facing systemic forces that make them particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 outbreak, two doctors said in a video series TIME is producing with Katie Couric.
Black Americans appear to be disproportionately more likely to become severely ill or die from COVID-19 than other racial groups. According to Dr. John Carpten, the chair of translational genomics for the University of Southern California, and Dr. Lisa Newman, surgical oncologist for Weill Cornell Medicine, that may be because African Americans are facing major challenges both biologically and in American society.
Newman explained to Couric that African Americans face worse death rates for other diseases, including diabetes, hypertension and cancer as a result from higher poverty rates, coupled with access to health care. Therefore, it was no surprise that they are disproportionally affected by COVID-19. African Americans may also be more likely to hold essential jobs where they may come into contact with the disease, like in health care or transportation.
“It was certainly predictable that we would see the frequency of COVID-19 is disproportionately higher in African Americans, and death rates from COVID-19 are disproportionately higher in African Americans,” said Newman.
Carpten said that African Americans may be at an additional disadvantage against the disease because of their biology. He told Couric that there is “considerable and mounting evidence” that there are biological differences between black and white Americans in terms of how they respond to different diseases. He emphasized that it is essential for researchers to look at these differences when studying COVID-19.
“We have to look at the actual value of including these individuals who are at higher risk of infection and worse outcomes, because what we learn from them can improve the lives of everyone,” said Carpten.
This interview is part of a special series produced in collaboration with Katie Couric. Read more from TIME Reports with Katie Couric, and sign up for her weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.