The majority of confirmed Coronavirus cases in the city of Milwaukee involve middle-aged African American men, Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said Monday.
Kowalik did not offer a specific number or percentage but said the majority of the city's confirmed cases — 158 in total as of Monday afternoon — are middle-aged African American men.
The first three Milwaukee patients reported to have died after contracting Coronavirus were all African American men in their 50s or 60s. The men who died had underlying conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) or heart problems. One was Lenard Wells, a trailblazer for racial equality in the Milwaukee Police Department.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a lot of the people who have tested positive in Milwaukee, particularly on the city's north side, had not traveled abroad.
Health officials are working on "communicating as fast as we can and as deeply as we can into these neighborhoods to let people know that this is not just about people who had been in China," Barrett said. "This is about something that's here right now."
Kowalik also pointed to the lasting effects of the city’s history of segregation as a factor.
The concentration of Coronavirus cases mirrors other health outcomes, she said, an indication that there is a disparity that requires more outreach and education.
“Looking at the maps of Milwaukee, and looking where people live, looking at the history of redlining and segregation and how that crosses over into today," she said, "when we’re talking about various health outcomes like infant mortality, childhood lead poisoning, you see very similar distributions.”
Health officials are planning public service announcements focusing on the African American community, which will stress awareness about Coronavirus, its symptoms and who is most at risk for complications — as well as prevention measures, such as hygiene and social distancing, Kowalik said.