COVID-19: Why It's Hit Denver Men and African-Americans So Hard

COVID-19 has been having a disproportionate impact on men and African-Americans in Denver — and updated statistics continue to reflect the disturbing trends.

Dr. Bill Burman, director of Denver Public Health, is closely following these developments, and he's pushing hard for answers to the questions they raise. "The issue of COVID’s impact on racial/ethnic minorities is critical," he notes via email, "and we plan additional analyses of the associations between income, environment and race/ethnicity on access to testing, and rates of COVID infection, hospitalization and death."

So far, 75 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Denver have been male. "Men have a much higher risk of death due to COVID. This result is similar to analyses done in the United States and in other countries," says Burman. "We don’t know why men have a much higher risk of death due to COVID disease."

The latest Denver data, shared on a new web tool managed by DPH, shows a total of 1,372 COVID-19 cases in Denver by April 14, up from 1,299 on April 13. Hospitalizations from the virus stand at 389 (there were 351 the previous day), and the death toll has hit 64 — meaning that twelve people in the Mile High City lost their battle against the infection in just 24 hours.

During that same period, the number of people in Colorado who died from COVID-19 rose by eighteen, from 290 to 308, suggesting that two-thirds of the fatalities happened in Denver.

At first glance, neighborhood-specific data shows some improvement — but a closer look proves otherwise. The map boasts four basic color schemes, with the lightest shades representing lower case rates per 1,000 people and the darker ones designating higher ones. On April 13, four Denver neighborhoods had the metric's highest ranking: Whittier (ten cases, 1.85 case rate), North Park Hill (nineteen cases, 1.85 case rate), Washington Park (fourteen cases, 1.86 case rate) and South Park Hill (eighteen cases, 1.88 case rate).

Today, April 14, all of these neighborhoods have slid down one notch on the color scale, yet Whittier's stats are unchanged and the other three are all higher. North Park Hill currently has 21 cases and a case rate of 2.05, Washington Park lists fifteen cases and a case rate of 2.00, and South Park Hill has 21 cases and a case rate of 2.19.

The reason for the downgrade? An unsettling spike in two other neighborhoods: Skyland (fourteen cases, 3.92 case rate) and Auraria (fewer than five cases, but a case rate of 4.13).

Meanwhile, African-Americans remain the only ethnic group in Denver with deaths greater than their percentage of the overall population: 11 percent versus 8 percent. "Though it is early in this epidemic, the data from Denver is consistent with national data suggesting that African-Americans have a higher risk of COVID infection," Burman notes.

Coming to definitive conclusions about why this is true locally is difficult, he acknowledges: "There have not been enough deaths due to COVID in Denver (fortunately) to do a conclusive evaluation of the impact of race on risks of death due to COVID in Denver."

As for the higher death rate among men, international experts have a number of theories, including the possibility that females' extra X chromosome affords them additional protection. But right now, the mystery remains, and officials don't have all the resources they need to solve it. "It's important to know that there are limitations of our existing data due to lack of testing and patient interviews that have not yet been completed," Burman warns.

And while more data is collected, he doesn't want women, or anyone else, to assume that they'll be able to shrug off COVID-19.

"This virus can affect anyone in our communities and can make anyone sick regardless of their race, ethnicity, neighborhood or socio-economic status," Burman stresses.

Click to access the latest DPH information about COVID-19 in Denver.