NJ hospital officials caution public against ‘virus bias’
Figures updated daily by the state Department of Health continue to suggest the novel coronavirus is disproportionately impacting people of color, in terms of both overall cases and related deaths.
While this trend is not a Jersey-only issue, healthcare professionals in the Garden State are urging residents to refrain from "virus bias," which tends to rear its head when heath threats emerge.
"It's not that the virus itself is targeting someone, some race, some ethnicity, some nationality, because of their genetic makeup," New Jersey Hospital Association President/CEO Cathy Bennett told New Jersey 101.5.
Still, people act a certain way toward or avoid certain populations when fear and stress get in the way of fact-based information. she said.
"Economic inequality, densely concentrated neighborhoods, poor air quality, food deserts — these are all things that underpin higher rates of coronavirus co-morbidities in blacks, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and asthma," she said. "And as we see that play out, we're seeing that the African-American population is being disproportionately affected by the penetration of COVID-19 in New Jersey."
A racial breakdown of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths has only been completed for a fraction of the state's overall cases.
An April 16 update from the New Jersey Communicable Disease Service, part of the state Health Department, provided race/ethnicity information for 20,900 cases out of 75,317.
More than 23% of the state's analyzed cases involve African Americans, who make up 15% of the state's population, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. In comparison, about 38% of affected individuals are white people, who make up 72% of the state's population.
More than 22% of the state's lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths (2,492 as of the latest DOH report) were black and 51% white.
"Some populations face stigma and discrimination when new health threats break out. We've seen it with AIDS, with SARS, with Ebola, and now with coronavirus," Bennett said in a written statement.
"Such biases can have negative effects on mental health and can perpetuate fear and anger between groups of people. They're also counterproductive as we work together as a broader community to protect us all from transmission of coronavirus."
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.