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African American Population In Buncombe Faring Better Against COVID-19 Than State So Far

Matt Bush
Blue Ridge Public Radio


Buncombe County this week released demographic information on confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county.  The numbers showed the county isn’t seeing the disproportionate number of cases affecting African-Americans that the state has thus far.

As of Thursday afternoon, Buncombe County only had 37 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with just two reported in African-Americans.  Those numbers come with one caveat however. 

“We know this number of 37 cases is an underestimate of the true number of cases of COVID-19 in our community," said interim county health director Dr. Jennifer Mullendore at a press briefing Thursday afternoon.  "This results from the lack of availability of test supplies that has only recently started to resolve, and from guidance from federal and state public health agencies about whom should be tested.”  Mullendore expects a more accurate picture of the racial breakdown of cases to come early next week. 

The 5% of cases in the African American community in Buncombe County lines up to the overall population, which is 6%.  But statewide, the African American population is being affected disproportionately by COVID-19.  The African-American population for North Carolina is roughly 21%, but so far 39% of COVID-19 cases and deaths statewide have been African-Americans.

"Some of that is related to less access to care and being uninsured or underinsured," said MAHEC Nursing & School Health director Felicia Hipp.  Appearing on WRES-FM Thursday afternoon as part of a program assembled by county health officials, Hipp said African-Americans in Buncombe County are more likely to have a job where they can't tele-commute, or in one that puts them on the front line of fighting the pandemic.  That plus other underlying risk factors have made African-Americans more susceptible to the disease she added.  "Once we get it, it's much harder for us to avoid those serious complications."

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.