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Coronavirus: Oprah warns black Americans about outbreak

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American broadcaster Oprah Winfrey has warned African Americans to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously, saying the disease is "taking people out".

The virus was hitting the black community hard, and "people aren't getting the message" about the risk of asymptomatic carriers, she said.

African Americans make up a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths and hospitalisations in the US.

The US is the epicentre of the pandemic with 592,743 cases and 25,239 deaths.

Government data suggests that 33% of those in the US hospitalised for coronavirus are black - even though African Americans only make up 13% of the US population.

In Chicago, nearly 70% of those who died from coronavirus were African American - while only 23% of the population was black.

Winfrey said that initial messages around coronavirus "did not connect to the [US] audience in a way they could hear".

  • Why are African Americans hit so hard by virus?

"When this was happening in Wuhan, we thought it was 'over there'… and then I talked to African Americans in Milwaukee, and folks were saying 'we heard about it in Washington, but Washington is way over there, we didn't think it had anything to do with us'," she told CBS news.

It was important for "black people to understand pre-existing conditions" like diabetes and asthma put them at greater risk of the virus, she added.

Winfrey, who suffered from pneumonia last year, said she was also taking additional precautions because of her condition - and because many people could be asymptomatic carriers.

She added that actor Idris Elba, who she interviewed for her Oprah Talks Covid-19 series, had tested positive for the virus, but shown no symptoms.

"It's all these people, who perhaps could be carriers," she said.

Why are African Americans particularly hit hard by the virus?

Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said that many ethnic minority communities are at higher risk because they are more likely to have pre-existing health problems, or are in lower income jobs where working from home is not an option.

media captionThe Surgeon General showed his inhaler while discussing the impact of coronavirus on people of colour

Winfrey told CBS on Tuesday that "social distancing in the African-American community is much more difficult", as many lived in larger households.

Socioeconomic inequality also meant that African Americans were more likely to "live in areas where there's been toxic waste", or be "living in environments that don't allow you to have the best access to healthcare [or] insurance", she added.

Medical workers talk as people waiting in line to receive testing  outside Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, 7 April 2020
African Americans hit hard by coronavirus

  • 33%of those hospitalised are African Americans

  • 13%of the US population is African American

  • 68%of coronavirus deaths in Chicago were African American

Source: CDC, Chicago Department of Public Health

There has also been misinformation - including a fake rumour that black people cannot catch the virus.

Last week, former NBA star Magic Johnson told CNN: "People went out there spreading the word that blacks couldn't get it."

Johnson, who is HIV-positive, said it reminded him of misinformation during the Aids crisis.

"Blacks thought they couldn't get HIV and Aids. It's the same thing as the coronavirus. It reminds me going back 30 years, we were all wrong."

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  • Coronavirus: Why has the virus hit African Americans so hard?

  • US Surgeon General Jerome Adams shows his inhaler