African Americans account for 9.8% of Indiana population, but 19.2% of all COVID-19 deaths so far

Nearly one out of five deaths in Indiana so far from COVID-19 have been African American patients, which is nearly double the percentage of African-Americans who live in Indiana, the health department said Friday.

Sixty black Hoosiers have died of the disease so far. That’s 19.2% of all deaths in the state, even though the African American population in Indiana overall is 9.8%.

White residents have represented 69% of Indiana’s 300 deaths so far from the disease, but make up 85% of the state population.

None of the deaths have been among Asians, who make up 2.5% of Indiana’s population. Other unspecified races accounted for 4.5% of deaths. The race of the remaining 7% of the deaths is unknown.

The state disclosed the breakdown by race for the first time on Friday, and officials said they would begin posting the information on the health department’s web dashboard on Monday, with frequent updates.

“These disparities among our African-American population mirror what we see with other health metrics that we know to be significant risk factors for deaths with COVID-19 disease, and that is diabetes and heart disease,” said Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner.

Black residents are also likelier to have jobs in health care, transportation, food supply and human services — all industries that have been deemed “essential” and don’t allow remote work options, the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis said in a statement about the new numbers.

“They risk more public exposure, even with the mandated stay-at-home orders,” the legacy fund said. “Black residents must travel to jobs in nursing homes or manufacturing and often have to travel outside of their neighborhoods to get essential items. This current public health emergency has unmasked massive historical injustices in our populations, the impact of residential segregation and the entrenched disinvestment in our communities.”

Of the 7,928 positive cases of COVID-19 in Indiana reported as of Saturday, nearly half (46%) were from just two counties, Marion and Lake, which have large African-American populations.

Dr. Woody Myers, a Democrat who is running for governor, said Friday that the state waited too long to release race-related COVID-19 data.

“The delay in data once again underscores the lack of priority the Holcomb administration places on health disparities across all racial groups, but especially for black Hoosiers,” Myers said. “We must do better.”

The state has delayed the primary election until June because of the coronavirus, but Myers is the presumptive nominee and will challenge Holcomb, who is seeking re-election.

Myers said that “even now that we know the initial figures, the full picture is still not fully known because the state’s testing rates remain grossly inadequate.”

“The reality is that minority and low-income communities will likely bear the brunt of this disease, both in terms of health and economics,” he said. “The question we ought to be asking now is: ‘What will state leaders do about it?’”

Also Friday, U.S. Sen. Todd Young announced that Indiana hospitals and medical providers would receive a total of $668.6 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a recently passed federal relief act. The payments will go to 4,495 medical providers and health systems that are enrolled in Medicare. The money will not need to be repaid.

As the surge of COVID-19 cases continues to build, the Indiana State Department of Health also said that, as of Thursday evening, 41% of the 2,930 intensive care unit beds in Indiana remain available, as do 69% of the 2,762 ventilators in Indiana hospitals.

More than 12,000 retired or idled doctors, nurses and other front-line health care workers have responded to a call from Gov. Eric Holcomb to help if necessary in treating patients in coming weeks. In addition, about one-third of medical students in Indiana who have opted to graduate early have already been paired with a hospital and are ready to work, Box said.

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