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Coronavirus most prevalent in Boston communities with the most poverty and people of color

Neighborhoods with the most poverty and the most people of color led Boston in the percentage of residents who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus, with rates more than three times that of Boston proper, according to Boston Public Health Commission statistics.

Of the 10,372 people tested in East Boston as of Aug. 10, 18.6% tested positive for COVID-19, and 7.9% tested positive from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, the most recent dates for which statistics were available.

Mattapan had the second highest positive rate — 16.2% of 5,231 residents tested, followed by Hyde Park with 15.4% of 7,728 people tested, and one half of Dorchester, where ​14.9% of 15,409 residents tested positive, plus the other half, where 14.4% of 13,626 tested positive.

Those percentages far outpaced the results for more affluent and mostly white neighborhoods like the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, West End, Downtown and North End, where 5.1% of 11,312 people tested so far came back positive, and 1.5% tested positive the week of Aug. 4.

“This is absolutely, totally an American problem,” said Barry Bloom, former dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It has to do with not only disparities in health, but disparities in wealth, disparities in housing and disparities in education.”

Many of the people who live in neighborhoods with the highest rates of coronavirus are essential workers who stand a greater chance of coming into contact with the virus and then bringing it home to their families, Bloom said. And he said many live in crowded housing, which also contributes to higher exposure to and transmission of the virus, he said, and some are undocumented and delay going to the hospital because they are afraid of being deported.

“This virus continues to hit communities in my district like Mattapan and Dorchester the hardest because we are home to thousands of front-line and essential workers, but also because of systemic health and economic inequities that make our communities more vulnerable to this crisis,” said City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who represents parts of Dorchester and Mattapan.

She added that there is free testing this week at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan, regardless of whether people are exhibiting symptoms.

Sara Bleich, professor of public health policy at the Chan School of Public Health, said public health officials need to ramp up testing in neighborhoods with the highest percentages of the coronavirus, and people in the workforce there need access to personal protective equipment, Bleich said.

“The work toward funding and developing a vaccine has been record-breaking,” she said. “And we need to apply that same sense of urgency toward reducing infection and death among black and brown populations.”


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