Coronavirus live updates: China to address World Health Organization amid calls for inquiry into pandemic origins

Ashley Weiser waves to customers in downtown Atlanta last month.

Underlying health conditions in the United States, especially among minorities, have augmented the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Sunday.

Speaking to Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Azar said that the U.S. population has “significant unhealthy co-morbidities that do make many individuals in our communities, in particular African American, minority communities particularly at risk.”

The virus has taken nearly 90,000 lives in the United States — more than any other country — and data indicates that black Americans have been especially hard-hit . Disproportionately black counties account for nearly 60 percent of deaths nationwide, one study found.

Azar called those disparities an “unfortunate legacy in our health care system that we certainly do need to address,” but Tapper pushed back on the HHS chief’s comments: Was Azar suggesting that so many Americans had died, he asked, because they were “unhealthier than the rest of the world?”

Azar said no, but he added that the U.S has a “significantly disproportionate burden of co-morbidities,” including obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

“These are demonstrated facts that do make us at risk for any type of disease burden,” Azar added.

“This is not about fault,” he said, adding: “One doesn’t blame an individual for their health conditions. That would be absurd. It’s simply a statement that we do have greater risk profiles here in the United States.”

An analysis from the American Public Media Research Lab found that, out of almost 65,000 fatalities that had race and ethnicity data available, more than 17,00 black Americans have died due to covid-19. In the 39 states where that data was collected, African Americans made up about 13 percent of the population but 27 percent of deaths.

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