COVID-19 and Race in North Carolina

This pandemic is putting a harsh spotlight on just how deeply embedded the barriers are that create massive racial and economic inequities in people’s health and well-being. 

By: Whitney Tucker | April 2020

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When a health crisis strikes, everyone deserves a fair shot at getting through it, with access to the care and resources they need to get better and stay healthy. But COVID-19 is not affecting everyone in the same way. This pandemic is putting a harsh spotlight on just how deeply embedded the barriers are that create massive racial and economic inequities in people’s health and well-being. 

Disproportionate Impact on Black People

As our state faces the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, we are learning even more about our health system’s vast shortcomings in delivering high-quality, affordable health coverage and care for all families. The stories we’re reading and hearing from our partners around the state, along with data being collected and shared, make it clear how disproportionately Black people in NC are being impacted by the virus. 

Discriminatory health and economic barriers make Black people more likely to have the chronic illnesses that put them at high risk if they do get sick from COVID-19. Because they are more likely to be uninsured and face unfair barriers to quality care, it is also harder for many Black people to access the testing and treatment needed for early intervention. COVID-19 is compounding the effects of racist policy and practice in a way that’s forcing Black people to bear the brunt of this crisis. 

Statewide as of April 17, Black people account for just 22% of North Carolinians, but 36% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. Recently, the Charlotte Observer published an article highlighting the disparate impact on Black people in Mecklenburg County, sounding the alarm from public health officials that called it a “major problem that hasn’t gotten enough attention.” Data as of March 30 showed Black residents accounted for 44% of 303 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the County though they make up only 33% of the population. 

North Carolina is certainly not alone in showing us that COVID-19 is not affecting everyone in the same way. As of April 3, African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% Black, according to ProPublica’s reporting on early data there. We see similar patterns emerging in cities like Detroit, New Orleans, and others. 

Moving Forward with Policy Solutions

So how do we move forward to reduce future likelihood of exposure, contraction, and death from COVID-19 for people of color, especially Black Americans who are at such heightened risk? As we listen to directly impacted communities, we’re working alongside our partners and advocates across the state in calling on elected officials and decision-makers to remove barriers to health and health care for NC’s most vulnerable families. 

NC Child is committed to eliminating inequitable and discriminatory policies, programs, and practices in public health and focusing on solutions that prioritize the most underserved populations. We are all in this together. We must be intentional in our efforts to create the best social and economic conditions possible for people of color so that all families can have what they need to be their healthiest selves. 

Expand Health Coverage for Families

Expanding health coverage to uninsured people is a great place to start taking action. You can help our efforts today by submitting comments to NC legislators, urging them to expand Medicaid coverage and immediately cut the number of uninsured people by half. Click HERE to make your voice heard. 

Demographic Data 

North Carolina is one of the few areas of the country that’s reporting data about race, ethnicity, and gender in its updated Coronavirus tracker, though the data are incomplete because not all hospitals are currently reporting to NCDHHS. One of the most straightforward ways to help decision-makers reduce racial inequities with COVID-19 is to make all data on race, ethnicity, zip code, gender, and age readily available for scientists and researchers to better prepare and plan.

Strategic Testing Locations 

Communities of color need equal access to testing and treatment for COVID-19. As we make strides to test people more effectively, decision-makers must be thoughtful about where they roll out new testing sites. As a Brookings Institute blog suggests, Black churches would be ideal locations for testing, triage, and treatment. But many barriers remain – including an acute shortage of tests nationwide.

You can find more data and resources to help child advocates respond to COVID-19 at Please let us know if you have anything to add to our list. 

We’re listening to NC families and advocates with great attention and care — we want to hear from you and find ways to support you. 

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