Data: Highest COVID-19 death rates found in NC counties with high percentages of Black residents

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The North Carolina counties with the highest percentages of African Americans also have some of the highest death rates due to COVID-19, a CBS17.com data analysis found.

The coronavirus crisis has hit minorities at a disproportionate rate, with demographic data from the Department of Health and Human Services showing African Americans accounting for 34 percent of deaths due to COVID-19 despite making up just 22 percent of the state’s population of 10.5 million.

CBS17.com charted the state’s 100 counties by the proportion of their population that is African American, their total population and the number of COVID-19 deaths reported to the state by county, then calculated the per capita death rate per 100,000 people.

Of the seven counties where African Americans make up the majority, five have per capita death rates that exceed the statewide average of roughly 11 deaths per 100,000 people.

That includes the two counties with the highest death rates: Vance County, which is 50.1 percent Black, has 69.6 deaths per 100,000 people, and Northampton County, which is 56.5 percent Black, shows 68 deaths per 100,000 people.

Six counties have death rates of more than 35 per 100,000 people and four of them are at least 30 percent Black, including Columbus County (death rate of 55, 30.9 percent Black) and Pasquotank (35.2, 36.5 percent).

At the other end of the spectrum, in 24 counties the Black population is 5 percent or lower. In those counties, the average death rate is 3.5 per 100,000 people and only one — Henderson County, with a death rate of nearly 41 per 100,000 people — has a death rate that is greater than the state average. Yadkin County is the only other county on that list with more than 10 deaths per 100,000 people.

The findings by CBS17.com mirror the results of a study earlier this month by researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who studied factors that correlate with COVID-19 death rates.

“The ZIP code matters a lot. We know that. The ZIP code matters a lot in terms of — we know that longevity of an individual, the diseases … everything is related to where you live,” said Dr. Deepak Kumar, the director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute at North Carolina Central University.

Piedmont Rising, a nonprofit group that advocates for health care, says one of the reasons African Americans have been hit especially hard during the pandemic is because they have higher rates of health issues that may put them at greater risk, including asthma, heart disease and hypertension.

The group is advocating for protection of the Affordable Care Act, an expansion of Medicaid and greater transparency in data that relates to racial disparities in health care access.

Kumar has established a program at N.C. Central that examines disparities in health and medical care for African Americans and other minorities.

The school is one of six to receive a share of a $6 million grant from the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill for COVID-19 research and care.

N.C. Central will spend $1 million — its share of the funding — to create the Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities (ACCORD) and will study the public health and economic impact of the disease in underserved communities in the state. Among its priorities will be nasal swab testing in seven counties — Anson, Cabarrus, Durham, Granville, Halifax, Rowan and Vance counties — and conducting outreach projects with local groups and organizations.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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