How COVID-19 is impacting Black New Jerseyans

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By Bradford Mason

According to numbers from New Jersey state officials, Blacks make up 22% of Coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths but only 14% of the population in the Garden State. The numbers we released during a news conference by state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Thursday.

Breaking down the numbers of COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey, 58% are male and 41% are female. Whites made up 61% of deaths, 6% were Asian and less than 1% are Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. The top five total Coronavirus cases continues to be Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Union, Passaic.

"The African American number of 22%, that is relative, let's not forget this folks, relative to about 14% or 15% representation of the general population in New Jersey and that's something that's we're seeing elsewhere in the country, and that's something that we're very focused on," Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Among those that passed away from the virus includes the Reverend H. Gene Sykes who was the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Bayonne. He also served as Vice Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Bayonne Housing Authority and was Vice President of the Bayonne branch of the NAACP.

"Communities of color are sadly more disproportionately represented in the fatalities," Murphy said in one report. "In peacetime, in normal times, you've got certain communities that are invariably left behind, and invariably they're communities of color. And that matters a lot to us, particularly as the most diverse state in America."

Health officials point to the higher rate of chronic conditions in the Black community including heart disease, diabetes and asthma for the number of deaths .

Advocates are calling for more a better understanding of how the Coronavirus is impacting Black New Jerseyans. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJSIJ) and its United Black Agenda partners wrote Murphy requesting that the state publicly release the demographic information.

The groups want to know several factors including who has been tested, hospitalized and incidence of testing, infection, hospitalization, and fatalities among the youth and adult incarcerated populations

“Black people are dying across this country from COVID-19 at strikingly disproportionate rates," the letter said. "That outcome is caused by decades of racism reflected in disinvestment in Black communities, grinding poverty, relentless hypersegregation, redlining and substandard public housing, healthcare, and educational opportunities, police brutality, food deserts, pollution, and landfills.  As a result of these factors, Black people suffer from higher rates of the underlying conditions on which COVID-19 preys"

The letter also pointed out the that a large number of essential workers still going to work are Black, which is also a contributing factor to the high number of deaths in communities of color.

“A disproportionate number of low-wage Black and Latina/Latino New Jerseyans are likely to have 'essential' jobs that can’t be done remotely and which put them in close contact with others – including in nursing homes, at cash registers, in kitchens, or as part of custodial teams. Black people are also more likely to use public transportation to travel to jobs, making social distancing difficult.”

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