Jeramey Jannene

African-Americans Hard Hit By COVID-19 Across Wisconsin

African-American disparity isn't just a Milwaukee problem.

By - Apr 10th, 2020 04:15 pm
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April 10th Department of Health Services COVID-19 Case Map in Wisconsin. Image from DHS.

April 10th Department of Health Services COVID-19 Case Map in Wisconsin. Image from DHS.

The racial disparity by which African-Americans represent a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths is not just a Milwaukee problem. It holds true across Wisconsin.

Only 6.7 percent of Wisconsin residents identify as black, but at least 26 percent of COVID-19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been in the state’s black population. That number rises to 32 percent when the 18 percent of cases where the state has no race data are removed.

The data gets starker when looking at deaths. Forty-four percent of deaths of those that have died from the disease in Wisconsin have been black.

“Consistent with what other parts of the country are seeing, these numbers show us that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting the African-American community in Wisconsin,” said Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm during a media briefing Friday. “To be clear, COVID-19 can infect any individual and at the same time, COVID-19 has had a more significant effect on communities that have been underserved by inequitable access to healthcare.”

It’s an issue that Milwaukee officials have been ringing alarm bells about for weeks already, but the state didn’t add racial data on cases and deaths to its public dashboard until this week. Governor Tony Evers had previously called the Milwaukee racial problem a “crisis within a crisis.”

In Milwaukee County, 27.2 percent of the population identifies as black, but 58 percent of COVID-19 cases (where race is known) are in the black community. Sixty-six percent of those that died from the virus in Milwaukee County have been black.

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik, herself an African-American, addressed the issue publicly on March 23rd. Ticking off a list of negative health factors, including poverty and redlining Kowalik said, “Seeing COVID-19 cases in certain parts of the community, it kind of mirrors those other health factors, which shows that there are disparities.”

Milwaukee County has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, with approximately 1,634 as of Friday afternoon and the greatest number of African American residents, but removing Milwaukee County data from the rest of Wisconsin still leaves the state overweight with African-American COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The disparity will keep epidemiologists, sociologists and the Department of Health Services busy for some time, but in the short-run state and local officials must find ways to protect the hardest-hit populations.

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