Assessing differential impacts of COVID-19 on black communities

Gregorio A. Millett, Austin T. Jones, David Benkeser, Stefan Baral, Laina Mercer, Chris Beyrer, Brian Honermann, Elise Lankiewicz, Leandro Mena, Jeffrey S. Crowley, Jennifer Sherwood, Patrick S. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Given incomplete data reporting by race, we used data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in U.S. counties to describe racial disparities in COVID-19 disease and death and associated determinants. Methods: Using publicly available data (accessed April 13, 2020), predictors of COVID-19 cases and deaths were compared between disproportionately (≥13%) black and all other (<13% black) counties. Rate ratios were calculated, and population attributable fractions were estimated using COVID-19 cases and deaths via zero-inflated negative binomial regression model. National maps with county-level data and an interactive scatterplot of COVID-19 cases were generated. Results: Nearly 90% of disproportionately black counties (656/677) reported a case and 49% (330/677) reported a death versus 81% (1987/2465) and 28% (684/2465), respectively, for all other counties. Counties with higher proportions of black people have higher prevalence of comorbidities and greater air pollution. Counties with higher proportions of black residents had more COVID-19 diagnoses (Rate Ratio (RR): 1.24, 95% confidence interval: 1.17–1.33) and deaths (RR: 1.18, 95% confidence interval: 1.00–1.40), after adjusting for county-level characteristics such as age, poverty, comorbidities, and epidemic duration. COVID-19 deaths were higher in disproportionally black rural and small metro counties. The population attributable fraction of COVID-19 diagnosis due to lack of health insurance was 3.3% for counties with less than 13% black residents and 4.2% for counties with greater than or equal to 13% black residents. Conclusions: Nearly 20% of U.S. counties are disproportionately black, and they accounted for 52% of COVID-19 diagnoses and 58% of COVID-19 deaths nationally. County-level comparisons can both inform COVID-19 responses and identify epidemic hot spots. Social conditions, structural racism, and other factors elevate risk for COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths in black communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-44
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of epidemiology
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • African-American
  • Black
  • COVID-19
  • Disparity
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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