“World ends — women, minorities hardest hit”? Don’t laugh too hard at that old joke about media bias — officials from Donald Trump on down are raising alarms about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on minority communities.  The Washington Post offered readers a detailed look at the extent of the disparity today, focusing mainly on the African-American population in nine states and/or localities:

As the novel coronavirus sweeps across the United States, it appears to be infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate, according to a Washington Post analysis of early data from jurisdictions across the country.

The emerging stark racial disparity led the surgeon general Tuesday to acknowledge in personal terms the increased risk for African Americans amid growing demands that public-health officials release more data on the race of those who are sick, hospitalized and dying of a contagion that has killed more than 12,000 people in the United States.

A Post analysis of available data and census demographics shows that counties that are majority-black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority. …

African Americans’ higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and lung disease are well-documented, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) noted that those health problems make people more vulnerable to the new respiratory disease. But there never has been a pandemic that brought the disparities so vividly into focus.

The difference was significant enough to prompt Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams to warn about it yesterday on CBS This Morning:

Yesterday afternoon, Donald Trump called the issue one of the challenges his administration faces in solving the coronavirus crisis:

President Trump publicly acknowledged for the first time the racial disparity at the White House task force briefing Tuesday.

“We are doing everything in our power to address this challenge, and it’s a tremendous challenge,” Trump said. “It’s terrible.” He added that Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “is looking at it very strongly.”

“Why is it three or four times more so for the black community as opposed to other people?” Trump said. “It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t like it, and we are going to have statistics over the next probably two to three days.”

It’s not just the black community, though, at least not in New York City. Hispanics are also testing positive at disproportionally higher rates, and dying at higher rates, too, although proportionally a little less than blacks. The same is true for the state as a whole, which has Andrew Cuomo demanding to know why. At his press briefing today, Cuomo pledged to direct more testing resources to minority communities, and said the time has come to find out why poorer and disadvantaged communities bear a larger burden in disasters, including pandemics:

Bill de Blasio wants to know why too, he declared earlier in the day:

New state data about the ethnicities of NYC’s coronavirus deaths reveals a distressing disparity: African-American and Latino demographics represent the majority of confirmed fatalities from the virus.

Hispanics account for 34% of the city’s fatalities; black people, 28%; whites, 27%; and Asians, 7%, according to the state Health Department.

The groups make up 29%, 22%, 32% and 14% of the city’s population, respectively.

“It’s sick, it’s troubling, it’s wrong and we’re going to fight back with everything we’ve got,” Mayor de Blasio said at a Wednesday press conference.

The simpler explanation would be that minorities tend to live in denser urban areas, while the suburbs have lower percentages of those populations. In a pandemic, urban density matters a lot, as we have already seen in New York City. Even where whites live in NYC, they probably live in less-dense parts of the city, or in environments where interaction can be more easily restricted.

The data from outside of the Big Apple suggests something else is going, however. When excluding NYC, black deaths account for twice as high a percentage than their percentage of the population (18%/9%), Hispanic deaths three points higher (14/11), while white deaths account for a significantly lower portion (62/75). The only ethnic demo with parity outside of NYC are Asians, whose deaths within NYC are the most disproportionately low of any group (7/14).

So what’s going on? In the absence of widespread population testing, it’s tough to know. It’s significant enough to warrant more resources applied to determine what’s happening, as Trump also said yesterday, but it could be many things, some of which Cuomo mentions: co-morbidity, more presence in essential service industries, and poorer care being among them. One point not mentioned is that exposure in these communities might have been earlier and more intense than first occurred among whites in NYC and elsewhere, for a variety of socio-economic reasons. If that’s the case, we should expect these numbers to eventually hit a proportional level, but no one wants to wait for weeks to see where the numbers are heading.

The bottom line is that we need more population-survey testing, and not just for one community over another. But if we’re seeing more vulnerability for certain sets of Americans in a sustained and widespread manner, we’d be foolish not to put attention and resources in place to find out why.