Fact check: Black people make up disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths in Richmond, Virginia
The claim: African Americans make up all the COVID-19 deaths in Richmond
In mid-April, Moguldom Nation, aggregating reporting from state media sources, said black Virginians in Richmond were contracting and dying from the coronavirus at a higher rate than other races. The online site reported that everyone who had died was black.
By April 15, black people made up 62% of about 160 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Richmond, where 48% of the population is black, Moguldom Nation wrote, citing reporting from WTVR, a CBS TV station in Richmond, and Virginia Public Media. At the time, eight people had died, all African Americans, VPM reported.
National publications picked up the theme: The Washington Post reported most COVID-19 deaths were among black people in Richmond. BET also used the Virginia Public Media report.
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As of April 30, 14 of 15 Richmond residents who died from the coronavirus were black. One person was white, according to a Virginia Department of Public Health report on COVID cases by race. Of 339 total positive cases in the capital city, African Americans made up 59%.
Of the 552 Virginians who died through the end of April, 288 were white, 137 were African American and 54 were Hispanic or other races. Race wasn’t recorded in 73 deaths.
Statewide, 4.8% of people who were black and tested positive had died, and 5.4% of whites who were positive died. About 20% of Virginia’s population is black.
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Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts, said people who are elderly or have underlying disease are likely to see more severe outcomes with COVID-19.
“High blood pressure, diabetes and chronic lung disease – we know from looking at large-scale public health data that African American communities have higher rates of these chronic diseases, in particular hypertension,” Avula told USA TODAY.
Many black residents in Richmond struggle to get health care, he said.
"In Richmond, as is the case in many other places, our African American residents tend be in the lower rungs of the socioeconomic strata," Avula said.
Richmond’s poverty rate is 22%. The state and national rates are both close to 11%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
That means taking public transit to jobs that don't stop because of the pandemic, Avula said. “Disproportionately, African Americans in our city are working in front-line service jobs as cashiers in convenience store and as custodians in essential businesses. … They have a higher potential of being exposed to COVID-19,” he said.
The health district added testing at public housing and other areas to better reach minority residents.
Though Avula hadn't studied it, he said he believes Richmond is experiencing higher deaths among African Americans because that population skews older. “We likely have a higher number of seniors in the African American community,” he said.
Our ruling: True
Though the numbers change daily, African Americans in Richmond made up a disproportionately high percentage of the total positive cases in April. At the time the Moguldom Nation story was written, the claim that all coronavirus victims in the city were black was true.
Our fact-check sources:
- The Moguldom Nation
- U.S. Census for Richmond African American population and poverty rate; Virginia African American population and poverty rate.
- The Virginia Department of Public Health
- Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts,
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8457.
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