Most COVID-19 deaths in La. are among African Americans, data shows

Updated: Apr. 7, 2020 at 7:51 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - According to the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), slightly more than 70% of COVID-19 related deaths in the state are among African Americans, most of them with underlying health issues. LDH reports than more than 60% of patients who died had hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, followed by diabetes.

“Pandemics have a way of really bringing out what’s already been there, so we’ve known that disparities in the healthcare existed in Louisiana especially among African Americans,” said Dr. Rani Whitfield.

Dr. Whitfield has practiced family medicine for more than 20 years in Louisiana. He says the numbers are scary, but not shocking.

“We have some of the highest rates of high blood pressure in the world, and I see these things every day, hypertension and diabetes in my African American patients, sometimes poorly controlled,” Dr. Whitfield said.

He says patients with high blood pressure should be extremely cautious.

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“Studies are coming from out of China as well, saying certain blood pressure medicines my predispose these individuals to it, but I think I would lean more to the disparities in healthcare as what’s really going on," the doctor said.

Whitfield says limited access to healthcare and COVID-19 testing in black communities may also be contributing to higher death rates.

“We’re talking about a subset of people that are committed to our community, they’re keeping our pharmacies open, they’re keeping our grocery stores open, but they’re living paycheck to paycheck, they are less likely to have paid time off, less likely to have sick leave," Dr. Whitfield said.

Dr. Whitfield says he’s hopeful to not only see improvements in Louisiana’s healthcare system, but improvements in individuals as well.

“Today, at this very moment, what is most urgent is do what we should be doing, changing our behaviors. I recommend we see our doctors on a regular basis, that we manage our blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, that we exercise and maintain a healthy weight, and just do the things to stay alive," Dr. Whitfield said.

On Tuesday, April 14, The Urban League and Louisiana Public Health are hosting a virtual town hall meeting called “No, we’re not immune” to address how COVID-19 is impacting African Americans. To register, click here.

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