COVID-19 striking African-Americans more often in Shelby County

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MEMPHIS, Tenn . — Shelby County reported some COVID-19 data broken down by race for the first time Wednesday, and early numbers show African-Americans make up more than two out of three cases locally.

According to the city and county’s COVID task force, there were 897 patients in the county Wednesday, with 21 deaths. Race data was provided for 267 cases.

Of those 267 cases, 182 (68.2%) were black, 77 (28.8%) were white and 8 (3.9%) were other.

Of the 21 deaths, 71% were black, and 28% were white. It was more often fatal for men, with males making up 62% of deaths. Thirty-nine percent were obese and 22% had diabetes.

“The myth that this virus is primarily a white person’s problem has been shattered,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, health officer for Shelby County.

Memphis city COO Doug McGowen said while everyone was at risk from the virus, “it is having a very profound impact on our minority communities.”

This is the first analysis of the numbers and it is not fully complete, accounting for all nearly 900 cases. However, the numbers are following a national pattern of racial disparity seen in other major cities. 

Mayor Jim Strickland said the number of testing centers was increasing. The task force said it was focused on increasing in underserved areas, with a goal to get 1,000 people tested per day.

The Shelby County Health Department has not previously reported cases by race, although officials say they recently started gathering that data and would begin reporting it this week.

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said the CDC doesn’t consider race a risk factor in the disease, and doesn’t record that data. That leaves it in the hands of local health departments to collect.

The population of Shelby County is 54% black and 41% white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimate.

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