Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before the US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine COVID-19, “focusing on lessons learned to prepare for the next pandemic”, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 23, 2020.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’ leading coronavirus expert, told lawmakers on Tuesday that one of the biggest reasons the virus is disproportionately killing Americans of color, and specifically Black people, is racism.

Fauci, who was testifying before the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the Trump Administration’s coronavirus response, said that African-Americans are contending with a “double whammy” coronavirus threat, “through no fault of their own, because of underlying conditions, and the conditions in which they find themselves.”

“Right at the get go, they have a greater risk of getting infected,” Fauci said.

Public health experts, doctors, and historians have all told Business Insider the same, stressing that there are two key issues African-Americans disproportionately face that put them at greater infection risk. First, Black Americans are overrepresented in so-called “essential” jobs that require people to leave home and interact with others, raising their risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus in the first place.

“The jobs that the majority of them would find themselves in does not allow them to protect themselves, by looking into a computer and doing telework,” Fauci said. “Most of them are essential, on outside, having to mingle in a society in which the virus is circulating.”

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On top of that higher than average exposure risk, African-Americans also have higher rates than their white peers of underlying conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, which are all conditions that can increase a person’s risk of death from the coronavirus. These disparities are clearly tied to decades of racist US policies, and they are what’s driving the high coronavirus death rates for Black and brown Americans.

As of June 6, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that Black Americans aged 35 to 44 years old are 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19 (the illness caused by the coronavirus) than their white counterparts. Latinx people in the same age bracket are eight times more likely to die than whites.

“Dr. Fauci, would you consider racism itself as being one of the stressors that certainly impacts the African-American community more in an extraordinary way, that contributes to these co-comorbidities?” Congressman Bobby Rush, an Illinois civil rights activist who once helped found his local chapter of the Black Panthers, asked.

“Obviously, the African-American community has suffered from racism for a very, very long period of time,” Fauci said in response. “And I cannot imagine that that has not contributed to the conditions that they find themselves in, economically and otherwise. So the answer, Congressmen, is yes.” 

You can read more about why racism is killing more Americans of color with the coronavirus, and what can be done to change the status quo, here.

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