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Mississippi shows wide racial gap in impact of coronavirus

Numbers released Wednesday show the stark disparity in how the new coronavirus is affecting black and white Mississippians.

The state Health Department said 72% of Mississippi residents who have died of COVID-19 were African American and 28% were white. The department said that was based on cases for which “full information” was available, as of Tuesday evening.

It also said that 56% of Mississippians diagnosed with the virus are African American, 37% are white and 7% are of another race.

Wednesday was the first time the Health Department posted racial demographic information about the virus on its website. It had already been releasing information by age and sex.

The posting of detailed information came a day after the state epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, said about 50% and “maybe a little bit more” of those testing positive for the virus and more than 50% of those dying from it in the state are black.

Byers called the disparity “troubling,” and he pointed out that people with health problems are more vulnerable to the virus.

Mississippi has high rates of heart disease, diabetes and asthma. The state also has a high poverty rate and a large percentage of uninsured residents who might be less likely to seek preventative medical care for chronic conditions.

Mississippi is among the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage to the working poor. Expansion is an option under the health overhaul that then-President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. Gov. Tate Reeves and other Republican leaders have said they don’t want more people on a government program, and Reeves has recently said that the coronavirus pandemic has not changed his mind about Medicaid expansion.

The Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi’s overall coronavirus caseload grew to at least 2,003 infections and 67 deaths as of Tuesday evening. That is an increase of 88 cases and eight deaths from the previous day. The outbreak has spread to at least 41 long-term care facilities.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

Reeves said Tuesday that he wants African American community leaders, including pastors and politicians, to talk to people about trying to protect themselves and seek medical help if they think they might have the virus, particularly if they have chronic medical conditions.

The state has had temporary mobile testing sites in several hard-hit communities, including the coastal city of Moss Point, where 71% of residents are black.

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