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Coronavirus heavily impacting African Americans at disproportionate rates

African Americans at higher risk of getting COVID-19
African Americans with underlying health conditions at higher risk for coronavirus infection 02:15

A new study lists the underlying conditions that increase the risk for coronavirus patients. The top three — hypertension, obesity and diabetes — are more likely to be found among African Americans, a community where the virus is taking an especially heavy toll.

COVID-19 has left two gaping holes in Sandi Thomas' life. "Mommy and Penny are gone and it's very sad and lonely in there," Thomas said.

On March 18, her 87-year-old mother, Gertrude, was admitted to a Baltimore hospital. Just five days later, her sister, Penny, was too. Both died within days of each other in the same intensive care unit.

"Are you holding it together?" CBS News asked. "Through the grace of God," Thomas said.

In Maryland, black people account for 31% of the population but almost 45% of the probable coronavirus deaths. In Louisiana, African Americans make up 33% of the population, but 56% of the deaths. Cities like New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. also show similar disparities. 

"There's no single source of why this occurs," Dr. Selwyn Vickers, vice president of medicine and dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, explains.

Vickers says historical inequity plays a role. "They are the ones that not only will have limited access to care at times, but also limited access to proper nutrition and have a high rate of preexisting conditions," he said.

The NAACP this week sounded the alarm through Baltimore's streets.

"The messaging, the public health guidance, just simply was not penetrating certain segments of our community," said Kobi Little of the Baltimore NAACP.

Now, Thomas' 39-year-old Nephew has tested positive too. "It's here and we need to follow directions," she said.

She is pleading for everyone to take the threat seriously. "My mother and sister are gone," Thomas said. "They were doing everything they were told to do and yet it still got them." 

The CDC is still gathering data on how coronavirus impacts communities of color. Critics of the agency's response say this lack of data is making it more difficult to respond to the crisis in the nation's neediest communities.

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