COVID-19 Will Disproportionately Impact Poor And Communities Of Color

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

As new data and empirical evidence is becoming more available, such as a study produced by Akilah Johnson and Talia Buford in ProPublica, Early Data Shows African Americans Have Contracted and Died of Coronavirus at an Alarming Rate, red flags have been raised that suggest that African-American, minority and poor communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the coronavirus. In Chicago, black residents have contracted the virus at more than seven times the rate of other racial groups and have accounted for 70 percent of the city's deaths despite being 30 percent of the population. In Milwaukee County, 50 percent of the coronavirus cases are black. Michigan’s state health office conveys that nearly 5,700 of the more than 17,000 statewide cases are black, who also makeup 33 percent of the deaths. In the Charlotte metropolitan area, 44 percent of the cases are black. Similar trends can be seen in communities across the country including Philadelphia, New Orleans and Memphis. This is a clear indicator that disadvantaged and communities of color are bearing the brunt of coronavirus infections and deaths.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health notes, “According to Census Bureau projections, the 2015 life expectancies at birth for blacks are 76.1 years, with 78.9 years for women, and 72.9 years for men. For non-Hispanic whites the projected life expectancies are 79.8 years, with 82.0 years for women, and 77.5 years for men. The death rate for African Americans is generally higher than whites for heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide.” 

In our estimation after reviewing these facts, we can only surmise that African-American and minority communities are being directly and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 This is because: 

Preexisting medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and other chronic medical illnesses.

Environmental Justice Issues: Such as toxic streams, brownfields and air pollution because of proximity to non-environmental friendly industries, major thoroughfares and roadways that dissect the community, landfills, and the prevalence of lead in land and water systems which have led to chronic illnesses like asthma, lung diseases and cancer.

Face to Face Working: Oftentimes members in black, minority and poor communities work in manufacturing sectors, warehouses, retail and restaurant jobs, serve as drivers and first responders in addition to other employment that is deemed essential. Many will not be able to work from home; many must continue to work to maintain sustainability.

Social Density: These environments represent perhaps the greatest factor. Black, poor and minority communities are closely aligned due to spatial concentration and economics.

Lack of Adequate Testing: We agree with the assessment given by Ibrahim Kendi in a recent article in the Atlantic entitled: What the Racial Data Show, he urged, "States, counties, and private labs to begin reporting the racial demographics of the people who are being tested for, infected with, hospitalized with, or killed by COVID-19." We wholeheartedly agree racial demographic information is needed in reporting.

Minority, Immigrant Groups and Disadvantaged Communities: Minority and immigrant groups are also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 because of health disparities, density and economics. In many cases it is a question of availability and accessibility, particularly in a right to work state where employers are not required to provide health benefits and Medicare/ Medicaid has not been expanded.

The Unity Group is making our membership aware of these things out of an abundance of concern and caution. We urge all to follow the CDC guidelines and recommendations, which include extra precautionary hygiene measures such as intense cleaning of surfaces, handwashing, and checking for symptoms. Most importantly, the general public must take to heart that COVID-19 is not only spread because one demonstrates symptoms, but you can be asymptomatic, meaning you can be a carrier and spread the virus but don't notice any outward symptoms. Likewise, young people and young adults are not immune as the disease has stricken infants and elderly alike. This is why we believe social distancing is now our best recourse, which means limiting your contact with anyone outside your general sphere of influence as much as possible.

It also behooves us to have more free universal testing. Many must still travel to and from work or perform essential tasks.

Equally important, in many instances, disadvantaged communities do not have the luxury of having adequate health insurance and by virtue will not be referred for testing under the current system devised. In fact, even those who may be demonstrating signs of the virus, despite being insured and that have primary care providers, are seeing difficulty in getting tested because of limited availability and capacity.

We must raise the education and awareness levels in our community. First, we must work to address health disparities found within African-American, minority and disadvantaged communities that were already ever-present pre- COVID-19. We also believe education is needed that continues to stress the need for continued social distancing, what to do if you believe you have symptoms, and how to get necessary testing and treatment. We must "test, test, test" and make it as readily available to all as HIV/ AIDS prevention and other vaccinations/ inoculations have been. This also must include community impact, from those who must report to work on a daily basis, to those who are resigned to enclosed spaces such as in all forms of mass transit, nursing homes, in prisons and homeless communities.

Second, we must talk about the economic impacts that have the potential to disproportionately effect minority and impoverished communities. They must not be excluded as they were with the opportunity zones. Quite simply put, stimulus and relief measures should not leave communities of color and the poor behind. Lastly, we must identify adverse effects that will be endured as furloughs, layoffs, terminations and business closures abound, and demand that we include the poor, small businesses, churches, and non- profit groups as part of any stimulus or mitigating relief efforts, many of whom have historically represented disparities in availability and utilization of services , employment and opportunities. We all must be geared towards preparing  communities of color and those that are disadvantaged to deal with this pandemic and progress forward in the days to come. 

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, is quoted in Joseph P. Williams's  U.S. News and World Report article, Disproportionately Getting and Dying From COVID-19 Early data indicates African Americans are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., as saying, "We have always known that we've had these enormous social determinants that impact health and create an unequal society ... I'm not surprised that we have had these enormous disparities in illness and deaths from COVID-19. They exist for everything else." 

We are also not surprised. This is why we must begin to advance a program in African American  minority and disadvantaged communities that is revolves around free, universal and easily accessible prognosis, testing and treatment. Afterwards, we must deal with the other mitigating factors such as job sustainability and employment, support to businesses, and the impact on the vote. We pray for renewed strength for all throughout Chattanooga Hamilton County, the United States, and the world community as a whole.

Unity Group of Chattanooga
Sherman E. Matthews Jr., Chairman
Eric Atkins, Corresponding Secretary

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