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Our Opinion: Finding much-needed answers

People the government classifies as black or African-American are being killed by COVID-19 at a rate far higher than their proportion of the U.S. population as a whole. It is a trend that has been noticeable for several weeks.

At the end of the day last Friday, the coronavirus had claimed 77,178 lives in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that total, 21.2% were black. The Census Bureau indicates blacks comprise 13.4% of the population.

By itself, the numbers are conclusive of only one thing — a compelling need to investigate them scientifically and in great detail.

Merely comparing the two percentages is dangerous, simply because COVID-19 has not penetrated every corner of the country uniformly. It may be more widespread in areas where blacks are more than 13.4% of the population.

Obviously, then the first step in an investigation has to be by statisticians, weighting death rates against demographics, area by area.

That comparison and the ensuing search for reasons behind any imbalance needs to encompass more than blacks and whites, incidentally. Another CDC number shows that 16.5% of COVID-19 deaths are Hispanic or Latino — who are 18.3% of the nation’s population.

There has been much speculation about the apparent imbalance in COVID-19’s deadliness. Some worry it reflects a lower quality of health care provided to black Americans. Some suggest economic factors affect their susceptibility to the disease. Another possibility is that differences in physiology among the races may be involved.

Again, jumping to conclusions would not be wise. The first step must be to determine if the COVID-19 death rate among black Americans is greater than for other races — as it appears to be.

If that is so, we must find out why, even if the answer is something we do not wish to learn about ourselves as a nation.

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