As of this past weekend, over 9,400 people across the country have been reported as succumbing to the virus. However, experts say that the true number of COVID-19 cases and deaths aren’t known and most likely much higher than the reported numbers. They express that this is a result of inconsistent protocols, limited resources and differences in decision making from one state or county to the next.
There isn’t a uniform process for reporting deaths related to COVID-19. It was only last week that the Center for Disease Control released new guidelines on how to verify deaths from the virus. These new standards want officials to report deaths where the patient has tested positive or, in an absence of testing, “if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty.” The fact that this statement was issued has confirmed what many healthcare professionals had already thought—deaths haven’t been tracked consistently in order to have an accurate count.
Another reason contributing to the lack of an exact count is that many areas are unable to test deceased individuals because any available tests, which are limited, are being used for living people with signs of the disease. This has caused may areas to have to backtrack and guess which deaths are related to COVID-19 and which aren’t. Experts also believe that there are deaths from February and early March that were likely not categorized as influenza or pneumonia because this was before the volume of cases really started to increase.
It’s essential to have precise information when it comes to the number of deaths because it’s an essential tool to understanding the disease. The more deadly it is, the more aggressive authorities need to be in implementing safety measures. These numbers can also inform the federal government on how to get resources to the areas that need them the most.
One clear thing that the limited data does show is that black Americans are being infected and killed in disproportionately high numbers. In Chicago, for example, they account for over 50 percent of those who have tested positive and 72 percent of the fatalities, but only make up just under 30 percent of the population. In the state of Illinois, black Americans make up only 15 percent of the state’s population, but represent 28 percent of the people who have tested positive and 43 percent of those that have died. The numbers are very similar in Michigan. In Louisiana, the state’s population of black individuals is about that same as Illinois, but they’re 70 percent of the people who have died from the virus. These higher infection and death rates are seen all across the country from Connecticut to Las Vegas and from South Carolina to Minnesota.
According to public health experts, the reasons behind the disparities are easy to explain. One of the main reasons is the longstanding structural inequalities. The best way to avoid the virus is to stay at home, but many black Americans belong to part of the work force that is unable to work from home, which places them at risk for contracting or spreading the virus. Also, due to the longstanding inequalities, many black Americans are less likely to be insured, more likely to have existing health conditions and likely to face racial bias that prevents them from getting proper care.