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Rumor, Disparity and Distrust: Why Black Americans Face an Uphill Battle Against COVID-19


AFTER TESTING POSITIVE for COVID-19, superstar actor Idris Elba, who’s built a career playing tough, streetwise characters like Baltimore gangster Stringer Bell, went online to set the record straight: Your skin color, he warned, won’t protect you from the coronavirus.

“Black people, please, please, please understand that coronavirus, you can get it,” Elba said, trying to quash a rumor swirling through cyberspace. “There are so many stupid, ridiculous conspiracy theories about black people not being able to get it. That’s dumb, stupid. All right? That is the quickest way to get more black people killed.”

Some U.S. physicians and researchers who study the intersection of race and health are joining Elba in sounding the alarm: The highly contagious and potentially deadly virus sweeping across the country is going to hit hard in the black community. And the reasons will reach beyond dangerous rumor-mongering and racially based misinformation.

The documented health disparities between racial groups in the U.S. – including higher rates of chronic diseases and lower access to health care among blacks compared with whites – make some African Americans more vulnerable to COVID-19, experts warn.

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