CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A new task force formed to study the high percentage in some counties of positive COVID-19 test results among the African American community is scheduled to meet Monday.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources has been putting together the task force for the past week with the help of the help of Jill Upson, the director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs in the Justice administration.
DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said the task force will provide assistance in the areas of outreach and education.
“We’re moving forward with that quickly here to see if we can get input from them,” he said.
The DHHR posted some of the higher percentage test results on its coronavirus website.
State Bureau of Public Health Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said the higher numbers have been in a handful of counties. Slemp said there have been 95 African American residents in West Virginia who have tested positive for COVID-19, which is 7.3 percent of the total cases in the state. The state’s African-American population in West Virginia is 4.2 percent.
Slemp said 13 counties have reported at least one case and a handful of counties have had more than one with a higher percentage that the African American community that county. That’s where the task force’s efforts will focus initially.
“Those counties include Berkeley, Jefferson, Marion, McDowell, Mercer, Monongalia and Putnam,” Slemp said. “Those are small numbers but we think it’s important to look at that, explore it further, and work with these populations.”
What’s happening in West Virginia is occurring on a larger scale across the country. A study released last week by epidemiologists and clinicians from four universities showed in part that counties in the U.S. with a higher percentage of black residents accounted for more than half of coronavirus cases in those counties and nearly 60 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.
The study cited several elevated risk factors including social conditions, structural racism and factors like density of households and unemployment and health care access.
According to the DHHR coronavirus website, 30.4 percent of African Americans who have tested positive for COVID-19 have required hospitalization while 15.2 percent of white patients have had to spend time in the hospital. The death rate among African Americans in the state is 3.3 percent. Among whites the rate is 4.3 percent.