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COVID-19: Why Are Blacks & Hispanics at Higher Risk?



COVID-19 and its most severe adverse effects target high-risk groups in the general population, as was learned from Italy. Researchers have identified individuals with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, COPD, obesity, hypertension, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, cerebrovascular disease, and other chronic diseases as being at greater risk of COVID-related complications and death. It also became known early in the pandemic that men and the elderly are more severely affected by the coronavirus than women and younger patients.


Once the COVID-19 virus spread widely throughout the US, the differences in COVID-19 infection and mortality rates in certain high-risk groups became more apparent. Alarmingly, in Chicago, where 30% of the population is black, 50% of the COVID-19-positive cases and 70% of the COVID-19 deaths are black. Even more alarming is that these deaths are concentrated in 5 black neighborhoods on the Southside of Chicago. New York City, which was at one time the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, has a population that is 22% black and 29% Hispanic. These two groups accounted for 28% and 34% of COVID-19 deaths, respectively, further validating the disease's disproportionate racial disparities. In Louisiana, where 32.2% of the population is black, 70.5% of the deaths have occurred in the black community. In Michigan, where 14% of the population is black, 40% of the deaths have occurred in the black community. (data obtained from articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association)


Why is this occurring?


A study from Johns Hopkins University and the American Community Survey indicated that of the 131 predominantly black counties in the US, the COVID-19 infection rate is 137.5 per 100,000 people, and the death rate is 6.3 per 100,000 people. Translated, this means that the infection rate is 3 times greater and the death rate 6 times greater in black communities than in white communities! There is a lot more data that need to be collected to understand what this really means. Remember, COVID-19 is not operating in a vacuum; before it arrived, black folks were still disproportionately suffering from a myriad of other health conditions. I dare say that the pattern is pretty clear. COVID-19, as with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney disease, coronary artery disease, and other diseases that disproportionately affect our communities, has further highlighted the chasm that exists in healthcare for many communities in the US. Be it access to hospitals or healthcare providers, access to testing, access to adequate housing without crowding, employment in high-risk jobs, etc., poverty, race, and COVID-19 are a deadly mix.


What are the Solutions?


The US had not solved issues of health disparities before COVID-19 and will not resolve this issue in the immediate future. Our leaders can’t even agree that this pandemic has been the greatest threat to our country in the last 100 years. This is a very complex discussion that will likely continue over the next decade. The national protests over police brutality in the US, COVID-19 and its associated economic fallout have highlighted the level of “structural/systemic racism” and “privilege” that exists in many non-minority communities in this country. For example, being able to work from home, social distancing by working on a virtual platform, avoiding public transportation, having access to healthy food, and the option choosing a virtual learning option for your school-aged children are privileges that don’t exist in many black communities. Some communities in the state of Alabama have no access to Wi-Fi; therefore, virtual learning is not an option (even if a laptop computer is made available).


The question is whether America will accept the century’s old challenge to live up to its promise to “ALL” of its citizens. By no means is this just a black or Hispanic problem; rural and low-income white Americans are being neglected as well. I certainly don’t have the answer, so until the local and federal governments step up, we will all have to fulfill our personal responsibility to wear masks, wash our hands regularly, and avoid crowds (of greater than 10 people, even family!), maintain social distancing; if symptomatic, seek testing; if you have come in contact with COVID-19-positive individuals, seek testing and self-quarantine and most importantly, if you are COVID-19 positive, self-quarantine for 2 weeks (until you are COVID-19 negative). If you become infected, you have a responsibility to inform anyone that has had contact with you. Remember, your Health is your Wealth!


 

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds their wounds.”

Psalms 147:3

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