Disparity in COVID-19 deaths shows burden on black community, hospitalizations continue to rise

If you’re black, you’re four times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than a non-black hospital patient, according to data from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit. There is no difference between the death rates of black and non-black hospital patients. But this only looks at the hospital populations.

The task force makes up the region’s four largest healthcare systems: SSM Health, BJC HealthCare, Mercy and St. Luke’s Hospital. These systems represent 2.8 million people for an area that includes surrounding counties in Missouri and Illinois.

If you take the number of African-American COVID deaths and divide it by the task force’s area population, it clearly shows disparities within the region, said Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander for the task force, during his July 24 briefing.

In the entire region, 18.8 percent of the population is African American. However, 55 out of every 100,000 black people die of COVID-19, compared to 15 for every 100,000 of non-black people. 

“When you do the population statistics, this is where it really shows the magnitude for the black community,” Garza said.

Aside from race, the task force also looks at risk indicators for age and gender. 

“What puts a person most at risk for mortality for COVID-19?” Garza said. “With every increasing year, you increase your risk for death from COVID, along with testing positive and for being admitted to the hospital.” 

The male population is 1.71 times more likely to die than a female patient. And you are 1.14 times more likely to die if you have a chronic condition. 

“If you’re an older male with chronic conditions, you’re at the highest risk for mortality from COVID-19,” Garza said.

For the past week, Garza has expressed concern that the region’s hospitalizations are increasing at a rapid rate. Many of the zip codes that are seeing the most rapid growth in terms of new COVID-19 cases are in St. Charles County and West St. Louis County, he said. If nothing changes, the region is set to see a second peak — similar to April — in the middle of August.

“It can’t just be 50 percent of the population that wears a mask,” Garza said. “It has to be up in the 90th percentile to gain the benefit of decreasing transmission. Facing a pandemic like this is taxing to our whole community. Everything has changed, and it’s hard and I understand that.” 

On Tuesday, July 28, the task force reported 40 new hospital admissions, up from 25 yesterday. (All numbers lag by two days.) The task force notes that there was a delay in reporting of test results, leading to the increase in reported hospital admissions. This, in turn, affected the seven-day moving average of admissions.

The task force uses this average to look at new hospital admissions because it shows the overall trend and irons out daily fluctuations. On July 28, the task force reported the moving average of new hospital admissions to be 39, which is the highest that it’s been since May. On July 8, it was 21 — and on July 25 and 26, it was 40.

The milestone of 40 new hospital admissions indicates that both Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page need to heighten public health restrictions, they both said on July 27.

The total number of COVID inpatients decreased from 253 yesterday to 243 today. The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations also decreased from 245 yesterday to 244 today.

There are also 98 inpatients who are awaiting test results for COVID , up from 94 yesterday.

The number of COVID patients in the ICUs increased from 54 yesterday to 59 today. The number of COVID patients on ventilators remained the same at 28 for the fourth day in a row.

Across the system hospitals, 48 COVID-19 patients were discharged yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 3,746.  

“Now is really the time to be kind to each other,” Garza said. “We’re depending upon each other for guidance and not for criticism and judgement. Show compassion for our loved ones and do whatever it takes to show it down.”


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