BENNETTSVILLE, SC (WBTW) – State health officials say more than half of all people killed by coronavirus are African Americans and one Pee Dee lawmaker is pushing for reforms to inequalities in healthcare.
The CDC says nationwide, one out of every three coronavirus cases are African American patients, even though the black population only makes up about 13 percent of the U.S. That similar trend is being seen in South Carolina, following the troubling national pattern.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) released the latest demographic numbers Tuesday about people killed and infected by the coronavirus in the Palmetto State. The data says 41% of all COVID-19 cases and 56% of people killed by the virus are black. This is despite African Americans making up just 27% of the state’s population.
By comparison, DHEC says white people account for 54% of coronavirus cases and 44% of deaths in the state. The white population of South Carolina is about 69%.
State Rep. Pat Henegan, D-Bennettsville, has been advocating for reforms to help minority communities, particularly in Chesterfield, Darlington and Marlboro counties.
“There are some barriers that are set up that they may not realize and I want those barriers removed,” Rep. Henegan said.
Rep. Henegan wrote a letter to DHEC earlier this month, emphasizing how African Americans and other minority groups have a greater chance of dying from COVID-19 because of underlying conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
“This disease affects them even more so because they’re at a higher risk of developing serious complications,” she said.
Rep. Henegan says she’s still awaiting a response from DHEC. During a media teleconference Wednesday, News13 asked DHEC’s acting public health director Nick Davidson about the racial inequalities seen in relation to the pandemic.
Davidson says the main thing being done right now is putting an emphasis on educating people to prevent the virus from spreading.
“We’re working with a number of local, larger community churches to try and get information out there, focusing on the African American communities,” he said.
A spokesperson says DHEC has also expanded food options available in the WIC nutrition program, using its environmental justice office to raise awareness and increasing the public availability of demographic data. DHEC is also prioritizing which rural areas will have Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 testing machines deployed to them.
Rep. Henegan says a lack of access to health insurance or affordable medical care among African Americans needs to be addressed, especially when it comes to a lack of testing at hospitals in many communities.
“You look at the illness of the person and if they have to be in the hospital, put them in there,” she said.
Here are the rates of counties in our area for people under 65 who don’t have health insurance, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau:
- Robeson County (NC) – 18.5%
- Horry County – 17.2%
- Dillon County – 14.7%
- Scotland County (NC) – 14.5%
- Chesterfield County – 14.2%
- Georgetown County – 13.7%
- Marion County – 13.7%
- Marlboro County – 13.0%
- Darlington County – 12.5%
- Florence County – 12.3%
- Williamsburg County – 12.1%
The U.S. Census Bureau also estimates 12.7% of North and South Carolinians under 65 aren’t insured.