By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — Blacks in Philadelphia have been less likely to practice social distancing than whites during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
That’s according to a city survey released Thursday, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
Fifty-four percent of African Americans reported they were less likely to reduce their social contacts since the outbreak started in the city, compared with 64 percent of whites, according to the survey.
Yet Blacks reported they were more likely than whites to stay at home during the pandemic, 39% to 35%, respectively. The city surveyed 600 individuals who self-reported their answers online last week.
“We all need to do a better job of social distancing so we can spread the infection less,” Farley said about the survey. “But, particularly, we need to get the message out to African Americans.”
To ramp up its social distancing messaging, Farley said the city has taken out advertisements in newspapers; held virtual town halls with the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement; and was reaching out to churches, among other things.
Blacks dying at higher rates from COVID-19
Blacks in Philadelphia continue to die in higher numbers from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, than other racial groups.
Fatalities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, increased 26 (33%) on Thursday, bringing the total to 104.
African Americans accounted for 38% of the deaths (39) for which the city had racial data, while 24% were white (25) and three were labeled “other race.” The city had no racial data on the remaining virus-related deaths.
Farley said the limited data on race suggested there were higher rates of mortality in African Americans in the city.
“This does worry us that like many other health problems, this problem is affecting people who have disadvantages even more,” Farley said.
The city still lacked reliable data on the race and ethnicity of those who test positive for the coronavirus and has stopped providing that data.
Farley said the city may conduct special surveys to capture data to capture the race and ethnicity of those who test positive for the virus.
“We’re seeing if there are some other data sources that can tell us more about whether we have differential rates of this infection by race,” he said.
Virus’ spread may be slowing
While confirmed positive cases of coronavirus topped 5,000 on Thursday, Farley said he was “cautiously optimistic” the spread of the coronavirus in Philadelphia was plateauing — contrary to predictions from the White House.
Confirmed coronavirus cases climbed 494 on Thursday, up 10% from the previous day to reach a total of 5,271 since the outbreak began in Philadelphia.
Daily positive cases dipped for the second straight day (505 cases on Wednesday and 544 on Tuesday).
Farley said the spread of the virus appeared to be slowing in the city, but added “I can’t say for sure” and warned that may not last.
“The virus may find new populations here in the city,” he said. “And we may continue to see rises and falls before we ultimately see a sustained fall.”
Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, labeled the Philadelphia region as a potential coronavirus hot spot, along with other areas, during the White House’s Wednesday news briefing.
“Now in the Philadelphia metro area, where I come from, it’s 1,400 cases per day, this, of course, includes Camden, the counties around the Philadelphia metro and Wilmington,” Brix said.
Farley said the city has been hit hard by the pandemic, like other large cities in the U.S. He said he welcomed the attention from federal officials, hoping it would lead to additional resources.
“We’re glad for the attention because we need all the resources that we can,” he said, “and we’ll be happy to work with the federal government to try to reduce infections as much as possible.”
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.