Austin-Travis County African-Americans disproportionately dying from COVID-19

Of African-Americans in Austin/Travis County diagnosed with COVID-19, just more than 18 percent of them were hospitalized and 5.4 percent of them died.

“The trends we see here are very concerning. They suggest that our African-American population in particular has a higher rate of hospitalization and a substantially higher rate of death,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority at Austin Public Health.

In a council work session Tuesday, Escott laid out some reasons why this might be happening; access to healthcare, poverty and pre-existing conditions such as diabetes all play a role.

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“Three groups we see leading the groups in diabetes are African-Americans, Latinx, and people over the age of 65,” he said.

In a country already on edge with race riots, Escott acknowledged the disparities people of color face with everyday needs, like healthcare. Add COVID-19 to the mix and things become even harder for some communities.

“It discriminates based on poverty. It discriminates based on the hospitalization rates we’ve seen and our case fatality rates we've seen,” said Escott.


Austin Public Health is planning to launch mobile and targeted testing sites in these vulnerable neighborhoods to address this disproportionate impact.

“We can’t just address COVID-19 without addressing the long-standing disparities when it comes to access to healthcare and social determinants of health,” he said.


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“We know that 14.8 percent of our community members are uninsured. We also know 12 percent live in poverty. If you overlay that with health disparities, poverty and also uninsured and put COVID on top of it. Those are the same zip codes that have the most COVID positive cases,” said Stephanie Hayden, director of Austin Public Health.

Austin Public Health is already in the process of looking for key locations in the county where these targeted sites will be placed.

“We're going to save more people when we get to the heart of the matter,” said Escott.

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Escott said this data was based on a small group of people APH studied, so there is a margin of error or competence interval.

“We can’t tell with scientific certainty that there are differences in rates of deaths in these groups. But we cannot wait on scientific certainty before we choose to act. We have to understand the trends,” said Escott.


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