NEW ORLEANS — Officials acknowledged Tuesday they are alarmed by statistics that show African-Americans comprise 70% of COVID-19 deaths in coronavirus-ravaged Louisiana.
The Louisiana Department of Health, which used to provide daily breakdowns on the deceased, is now doing so weekly and the latest figures show 70% of the 582 deaths attributed to the virus as of Tuesday were in the black population.
“We’re looking into this further and trying to figure out why that is,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday afternoon, noting the state’s population is around 33% African-American. “But we have a lot more questions than we have answers at this time.”
Mr. Edwards saw some glimmers of hope, as the state’s number of patients hospitalized inched up by a fraction to 1,996. The percentage of those hospitalized who require ventilators, which had held steady at around one-third for weeks, fell Tuesday to 26%.
With more than 75,000 test results obtained by the LDH, Mr. Edwards said Louisiana is now the No. 1 state in the U.S. in terms of per capita testing for the virus.
The trajectory of hospitalizations and deaths are the most significant lines, Mr. Edwards said, and while the former is promising the latter is not. The state and city’s needs for critical medical equipment do not appear to be dire in the next two weeks, and an overflow hospital wing planned for the New Orleans Convention Center has not yet been needed, he said.
“It means our mitigation measures are starting to work and it’s showing up in our numbers, and it’s possible if you look at the models that the U.S. is going to have far fewer deaths than was predicted just a couple of weeks ago,” he said.
If the state eased up on its lockdown rules, however, such an incremental increase could disappear, Mr. Edwards warned.
“Or I promise you our numbers are going to spike right back up,” he said.
The virus, which first infected people in Wuhan, China, last year has now struck 63 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, with more than half of the cases and deaths chalked up to it concentrated in New Orleans and adjoining Jefferson Parish. New Orleans is a majority-black city, and the percentage of African-Americans in most hot spots is higher than the state’s average.
As has been true worldwide, LDH statistics indicate coronavirus is most lethal for the elderly and those suffering from previous medical conditions. In Louisiana, 66% of the dead had hypertension and 43.5% had diabetes, while roughly a quarter had chronic kidney or cardiac disease and were obese.
Mr. Edwards acknowledged all of those conditions are more prevalent in Louisiana’s African-American population, but said conclusions have not yet been reached.
“We think that plays a role in the disparity and the number of deaths,” he said. “What we know is we want our people to be healthier.”