COVID-19 and the Black Community: Why are we dying?

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HOUSTON – COVID-19. Coronavirus. Those two scary words have been in the headlines of every major and minor media outlet, and have landed nearly a million Americans in the Intensive Care Unit in hospitals across the nation, with sadly, not everyone returning home. What’s even more alarming, is data released showing that Black Americans are dying from the novel Coronavirus at disproportionately high rates.

But why?

“Health disparities have always existed for the African American community,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a recent White House press briefing. “Here again with the crisis, how it’s shining a bright light on how unacceptable that is because, yet again, when you have a situation like the coronavirus, they are suffering disproportionately.”

Fauci also noted the health issues that are hampering African Americans.

“The diabetes, hypertension, the obesity, the asthma — those are the kinds of things that wind them up in the ICU and ultimately give them a higher death rate.”

Another obvious issue tied to health issues is lack of health coverage. Data shows 11% of Blacks are uninsured, against the national rate of 7% in 2017. Some Blacks don’t know they have these underlying issues because, with less access the health insurance, some conditions remain undiagnosed until it’s too late.

Employment is also a key factor.

Many blacks hold service jobs, such as grocery clerks, fast food employees, city workers and even bus drivers. Those jobs don’t provide the luxury of working from home, in alignment with the “social distancing” recommendations. These workers are put directly in the line of fire.

Walmart made headlines after two of its employees from the same store died from related COVID-19 exposure, and some workers were crying out on social media, saying they felt pressured to report to work, and not allowed to wear masks.

Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove died from Coronavirus just one week after releasing a video– which went viral — voicing concerns over a coughing passenger getting on the bus.
“For us to get through this and get over this, y’all need to take this seriously,” he said on the video. “There’s folks dying out here.”

Where a person lives is just as much of a concern as health care.

According to Pew Research, Black and Latino families live in crowded multigenerational homes at much higher rates (26% and 27%, respectively) than white families (16%). More than 60 million Americans live in multigenerational homes, where young asymptomatic people might put their older relatives at risk.

In addition, Black and Latino homes are more likely to be in communities with worse air quality, according to the American Lung Association, driving up rates of asthma, another risk factor for severe cases of COVID-19. A recently released Harvard University study suggests that counties with worse air quality standard would see an increased coronavirus death rate.

Another issue is just basic distrust in the government and the health care system. Who could ever forget the Tuskegee experiment, when over the course of 40 years, the U.S. Public Health Service allowed syphilis to go untreated in hundreds of African American men in order to chronicle the progression of the disease?

But despite all these concerns, health experts, elected officials and even celebrities are encouraging everyone to take this pandemic seriously and do all they can to remain healthy.

“I’m here today to tell all minorities, this virus, you can get it and you can die from it so make sure you do everything you are supposed to do. Stay at home,” said Ervin “Magic” Johnson to CNN on the disparities of the pandemic and the Black community. “I’m hearing they’ve been having card parties around the country You can’t do that. You have to stay at home with your families and keep yourself a safe distance from everyone else. That’s very important. Get your masks, get your gloves and stay safe.”

The Lakers Legend, who became the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic – said he has been watching classic NBA games and binging out on his favorite TV shows.

Heed all health advice from the experts and social distancing is key. Whatever you can do, stay safe.