Dr. Fauci says the coronavirus is 'shining a bright light' on 'unacceptable' health disparities for African Americans

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health Anthony Fauci walks on the North Lawn outside the West Wing at the White House, after TV interviews Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci struck an emotional tone when discussing the disproportionate death toll facing African Americans from COVID-19 during Tuesday's White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing.
  • "And the reason I want to bring it up, because I couldn't help sitting there reflecting on how sometimes when you're in the middle of a crisis, like we are now with the coronavirus, it really does have, ultimately, shine a very bright light on some of the real weaknesses and foibles in our society," Fauci said.
  • Fauci said mortality rates and ICU intubations are higher among African Americans because of a greater prevalence of "underlying medical conditions - the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma."
  • Serving as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, Fauci recalled the bulk of his career's work, which has focused on HIV/AIDS.
  • " ... [I]f you go back then during that period of time when there was extraordinary stigma - particularly against the gay community - and it was only when the world realized how the gay community responded to this outbreak with incredible courage and dignity and strength and activism, that I think that really changed some of the stigma against the gay community, very much so."
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Dr. Anthony Fauci took time to look at the big picture of broader societal problems during Tuesday's White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing, delving into how African Americans have been harder hit by the coronavirus in terms of ICU intubations and a mounting death toll compared to the rest of the population.

In Chicago, more than half of all COVID-19 positive test results and 72% of virus-related deaths have been among African Americans, who make up just 32% of the city's population and 15% for the entire state of Illinois. Advertisement

In Wisconsin, the numbers have been even more disproportionate. Seventy-three percent of all COVID deaths in Milwaukee County have been among black people, who otherwise make up under half of all positive test results and just 28% of the county's total population. 

Fauci raised the subject after President Donald Trump left the briefing halfway through on Tuesday evening. 

"And the reason I want to bring it up, because I couldn't help sitting there reflecting on how sometimes when you're in the middle of a crisis, like we are now with the coronavirus, it really does have, ultimately, shine a very bright light on some of the real weaknesses and foibles in our society," Fauci said. 
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"As some of you may know, the greater proportion of my professional career has been defined by HIV/AIDS, and if you go back then during that period of time when there was extraordinary stigma - particularly against the gay community - and it was only when the world realized how the gay community responded to this outbreak with incredible courage and dignity and strength and activism, that I think that really changed some of the stigma against the gay community, very much so," Fauci added. 

"I see a similarity here because health disparities have always existed for the African American community," he said. "But here again, with the crisis, how it's shining a bright light on how unacceptable that is." Advertisement

Fauci, along with Dr. Deborah Birx, noted that there are no biological reasons why African Americans are dying at higher rates from COVID-19. 

Fauci said that it's not the case that African Americans are getting infected more often, but said that prevalence of "underlying medical conditions - the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma" lead to higher ICU and death rates.

Trump also briefly addressed the topic, saying the virus' impact has been "disproportional," but that more research needs to be done to determine why.Advertisement

Not all states count a patient's race upon hospitalization or death.

At New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's press briefing on Tuesday, his top adviser Melissa DeRosa said state officials have been contacting local coroners to determine demographic information about those dying from COVID-19.

Fauci later told a reporter that the trend is not limited to particular cities or states. Advertisement

"The underlying reason why that is happening does not change from state to state," Fauci said. 

The disproportionate impact should be a call for broader action once the dust settles, he noted earlier.

"So when all this is over - and as we said, it will end, we will get over coronavirus - but there will still be health disparities, which we really do need to address in the African American community."Advertisement

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