O'FALLON, Mo. – The coronavirus is killing black Missourians at a disproportionate rate, especially in the two urban areas of the state, prompting some African American leaders to question if outreach is falling short.
Of the 19 people in St. Louis who died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, 16 were black, one white and one Hispanic. The race of one person was unknown. St. Louis is nearly evenly split between black and white residents.
Blacks have accounted for 20 of the 42 deaths in St. Louis County, while 14 victims were white and no race was listed for eight others, according to data on the county health department's website. About one-quarter of St. Louis County residents are black.
Kansas City – Missouri's largest city – has reported eight deaths from the coronavirus, including five black residents, two whites and one whose raced was cited as "other" by the local health agency. About 29% of Kansas City residents are black.
Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel on Monday said he has written to Republican Gov. Mike Parson but has received no answers about what the state is doing to help black residents get tested and treated.
"Their only job is to look after the public welfare, and they're literally watching people die," Chapel said in a phone interview.
Email messages left with spokeswomen for Parson and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services were not immediately returned.
Until last week, Missouri hadn't released racial data about patients who become ill or die from the coronavirus because about 40% of medical providers were not reporting that information, the state health director has said.
Health department data now show about 35% of reported Missouri coronavirus patients are white, 27% are black, and the race was unknown in 32% of cases. About 38% of patients who have died were white, 28% were black and race was unknown in 29% of cases. Missouri's population was about 83% white and 12% black based on 2010 census data.
Chapel questioned how local departments could not be required to provide information that could help direct outreach.
"Who's in charge?" he asked. "If we're going to leave this to cities and counties and they're not doing the job right, somebody's got to step in to save lives."
Other places also are seeing a significant racial discrepancy. Blacks account for 72% of deaths from COVID-19 complications in Chicago and 52% of positive tests, despite making up only 30% of the city's population.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Gwen Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said blacks are more prone to suffer disproportionately. She said they are more likely to have jobs that don't allow them to work from home, less likely to have health insurance and more likely to suffer from pre-existing health conditions like asthma or diabetes.
"Whenever there's a crisis such as this you find it takes its greatest tolls in communities of color," Grant said.
Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which has been tracking COVID-19 cases worldwide, reported Monday that Missouri has had 4,272 cases of the disease, including 118 deaths.
Parson, whose statewide stay-at-home order began April 6 and expires April 24, said discussions were underway about possibly extending the order, but no decision has been reached.
Orders may be extended in the urban areas regardless.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he will consult with other leaders about extending the region's stay-at-home order until at least May. Kansas City-area leaders are discussing extending orders that are set to expire next week for an additional one to three weeks, The Kansas City Star reported.
Missouri Department of Public Service Director Sandy Karsten said a Quality Inn Hotel in Florissant, near St. Louis, will be available starting Tuesday as an "alternative care site" that can handle more than 100 coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms. The site was developed in case a shortage of hospital beds develops.
The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency is recalling 48,000 KN95 protective masks sent to police and fire departments because testing showed they were faulty, Karsten said.