NEW ORLEANS — The percentage of African Americans among Louisiana’s coronavirus deaths dropped sharply in new data released Wednesday, flatting what has been an alarming trend of the disease disproportionately striking black communities.
Black residents had accounted for 70% of the COVID-19 deaths as of last week. The figure fell to 59.2% this, with the percentage of white deaths rocketing to 30.24%, according to tables the Louisiana Department of Health releases weekly.
At the same time, Louisiana saw a spike in overall deaths this week as it became one of four states to pass the grim milestone of more than 1,000 COVID-19 fatalities.
By midday, Louisiana attributed 1,103 deaths to the virus that originated in Wuhan, China. That represented an increase of 90 deaths one day after the state recorded 129 deaths — the second-highest daily death toll since the pandemic began — and has brought to a halt declining figures over the past week.
In a promising development, the number of people hospitalized in the state fell for the second day in a row, standing Wednesday at 1,943 with 425 of those needing ventilators, the LDH said.
The LDH offered no reason for the reported sharp decrease in the percentage of African American coronavirus victims. Throughout the pandemic, the virus has been concentrated in New Orleans and pockets of adjoining Jefferson Parish where there is a majority-black population.
Overall, Louisiana’s population is about one-third black, but that percentage is higher in heavily populated areas like Baton Rouge where the virus continues to percolate.
Experts said that the virus moving more aggressively into parts of Louisiana with a larger percentage of white residents could explain the new figures, but stressed that at the moment theories are conjecture and that fluctuations should be expected.
“There could be a number of reasons but I doubt anyone knows why right at this moment,” said Amy Lesen, a professor at Dillard University’s Minority Health and Health Disparity Research Center. “There are different parts of the state seeing more deaths now; more people are dying at home now, but I don’t know if those are certain reasons in Louisiana.”
Ms. Lesen said a comparison of infections and deaths with the state’s zip codes and census data would help researchers, although in New Orleans the city’s Mardi Gras celebration on Feb. 25 is widely regarded as a virus whirlpool event.
The generally unhealthy status of many Louisianians also seems to be a factor in the virus’s lethality here, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards and LDH figures. Nearly 60% of those dead suffered from hypertension and 38% from diabetes. About 22% suffered from obesity and chronic kidney or cardiac disease.
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