- New figures indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting African American communities harder than other groups.
- Experts say the trend is fueled by factors such as higher rates of underlying medical conditions as well as a lack of health services.
- Experts say more testing should be done in minority communities and more medical services should be provided.
In cities and states where the numbers are available, we’re learning that African Americans and Hispanic people are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Experts say the numbers simply don’t lie.
In Illinois, 43 percent of people who have died from COVID-19 and 28 percent of confirmed cases are African Americans, while they make up only 15 percent of that state’s population.
In Michigan, 40 percent of those who have died and a third of confirmed cases are African Americans, while they make up only 14 percent of that state’s population.
In Louisiana, 70 percent of the people who have died are African Americans, while they make up only a third of that state’s population.
And in New York City, 34 percent of the people who have died are from the Hispanic community, although Hispanic people make up only 29 percent of the city’s population.
These numbers have prompted a group of 10 African American pastors to schedule a press conference for Wednesday.
At the news conference, they will demand that the Trump administration provide data on COVID-19 cases by race.
The pastors will also demand people of all races have access to proper medical treatment.
“Blacks often live in communities with less access to high quality, affordable healthcare. This limits testing and treatment, which results in more severe cases and deaths,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, in a press release emailed to Healthline.
The pastors plan to note that in Chicago, African Americans account for 70 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases, although the city’s population is only 30 percent black people.
In New Orleans, the pastors say, African Americans account for 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths in a city where they make up just 32 percent of the population.
Why is this happening?
“We’ve known literally forever that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma are disproportionately afflicting the minority populations, particularly the African Americans. Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus… they are just those very comorbidities,” he said.
Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College in Tennessee and an infectious disease specialist, says health insurance and living conditions are also factors.
“It all relates to the social constructs that make it more difficult for African Americans to achieve health equity,” he told Healthline. “We live in food deserts. We live in small spaces with lots of people, and that promotes virus spread. People are uninsured, and if you’re uninsured, you’re less likely to seek medical attention until your disease is quite advanced.”
Dr. Uché Blackstock, an emergency medicine physician as well as founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, says there may be yet another reason people of color are developing COVID-19 in greater numbers.
“Blacks and other people of color are overrepresented as essential workers, as service workers,” she told Healthline. “It exposes them more to getting infected.”
What can be done?
Fauci told reporters there are limited options right now to deal with the racial components of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re very concerned about that, it’s very sad. There’s nothing we can do about it right now except try and give them the best possible care to avoid those complications,” Fauci said at last week’s task force meeting.
“When Dr. Fauci said that, many of us who have been working in the health equity space thought… no… we have to deal with these issues now,” she said.
Blackstock says using the data already available, health officials know where they need to target interventions and where to allocate resources.
- Those high-risk communities should receive more healthcare workers.
- Essential and frontline workers in those communities need more personal protective equipment.
- There needs to be widespread testing and contact tracing in communities of color.
Hildreth has an additional suggestion.
“We need to do careful contact tracing of all African Americans that are at high risk or who test positive,” he said. “Knowing that some people will have very poor outcomes, we need to be protecting them from getting infected in the first place, if at all possible.”
Blackstock says there’s still time to employ those mitigation strategies in communities of color.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we can improve the health of these communities,” she said. “There are basic interventions we can do right now.”
Some intervention efforts
Some areas are taking steps to intervene in communities of color even as the novel coronavirus crisis continues.
The University of Illinois at Chicago has opened a testing site at its Mile Square Health Center. The center serves 41,000 people in minority neighborhoods where chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, have high rates.
Workers are reaching out to people via phone, encouraging anyone with symptoms to be tested. They’re also teaming with businesses to provide meals so patients with higher risk don’t have to go to the grocery store.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week the state would be opening five new COVID-19 testing facilities in minority communities.
At a news conference, Cuomo said the state would also be collecting data that can eventually help find long-term solutions.
“We’re going to be doing more testing in African American and Latino communities,” Cuomo said. “We’ll collect the test results but also collect the information we need to come up with policies to fix this. Why do we have these higher rates? What do we do about it? Let’s do that now.”
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