Yes, More Black Americans will Die from COVID-19

Micah Griffin, PhD
4 min readApr 6, 2020

Where you live affects your health — especially during a public health pandemic.

Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Patricia Frieson loved to sing. “Her voice would send chills up my back” her nephew recalled when asked about the power of her voice. She was a loving sister, aunt, best friend, a believer in Christ, and a retired nurse. Patricia would become the first person in Illinois to die of complications from COVID-19. Soon after Patricia’s death, her family scrambled to get tested in order to avoid another tragedy. Two days later her sister, Wanda Bailey would also die from COVID-19 complications.

Patricia was from Cook County, home to the largest city in Illinois — Chicago. A densely populated urban area where Black Americans makeup 23% of the county population, but account for 70% of COVID-19 cases. Patricia and Wanda had all the risk factors for COVID-19; they were Black Americans who lived with hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.

The majority of people who have died from COVID-19 had serious underlying medical conditions that according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would make them a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

In Cook County, 81% of the Black Americans who died from COVID-19 had an underlying medical condition placing them at higher risk for COVID-19 related illnesses. A quick look at the Burden of Cardiovascular Disease in Illinois Report and we can see that Black Americans suffer disproportionately from heart disease and stroke compared to every other racial group. This disparity stems from a long history of issues that research has shown can significantly impact health; poverty, healthcare distrust, segregation, lack of access, and redlining.

Now time for a quiz.

Can you guess which county in Illinois has the highest rate of positive cases and deaths?

If you said “the ones with the most Black people” you’d be right.

Cook County has 8,034 positive COVID-19 cases and 186 deaths. 107 of Cook County’s 186 deaths from COVID-19 were black. In Chicago, 61 of the 90 recorded deaths — or 70% — were black residents. Blacks make up 29% of Chicago’s population.

If chronic disease makes you more prone to developing severe illness from COVID-19 and decreases your ability to fight off the virus if you catch it, we can only assume that the number of Black Americans in Cook County who suffer from chronic disease and contract the virus will likely die.

Although COVID-19 was the virus responsible for killing Patrica Frieson and 106 other Black Americans who live in Cook County, health disparities and racism in Chicago created the risk factors that made them vulnerable.

#ICannotStayHome and #I’mOnTheRoad4U were hashtags Jason Hargrove added to his Facebook profile picture on March 21st. His words were similar to those of so many other essential workers who could not stay home or practice social distancing. Jason is one of the 20 million Americans who work in public service, and one of the blue-collar workers deemed “essential” in Detroit, Michigan who suddenly found themselves on the front lines of a global pandemic.

“We’re out here as public workers, doing our job, trying to make an honest living to take care of our families.”

Those words would be some of the last Jason would share online — he would later die from COVID-19 complications 10 days after recording this video.

Jason lived in Wayne County which is home to Detroit and where 39% of the states black population call home, the largest in the state. Its also leading the state with 8,270 positive COVID-19 cases and 346 deaths. Wayne County is also consistently ranked last out of Michigan’s 83 counties for both overall health outcomes and health factors by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Residents of Wayne County have a 5.2% unemployment rate, double the national average (2.6%), 32% of children living in poverty which is three times the national average (11%) and 35% of adults are obese.

You cannot discuss health disparities in Michigan and not mention Flint, which has a 56% Black population. We all remember the Flint Water Crisis of 2014 where government officials knowingly changed the water source flowing into Flint and failed to protect citizens from elevated levels of lead in the water. This failure exposed over 100,000 citizens to lead and resulted in 12 deaths. Many of the residents in Flint still experience upper respiratory infections and comprised immune systems from the lead exposure — two underlying medical conditions that make you a high risk for COVID-19 illness.

Flint is located in Genesee County which currently has 568 positive cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths.

The state of Michigan currently has 17,221 positive cases and 727 deaths. Black residents of Michigans account for 41% of the states COVID-19 related deaths.

Although COVID-19 was the virus responsible for killing Jason Hargrove and 41% of other Black Americans who live in Michigan, health disparities and racism in Detroit created the risk factors that made them vulnerable.

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Micah Griffin, PhD

PhD Community Health in search of the key to really living forever.