The new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, continues to spread quickly, threatening the health and economy of the United States. It’s also threatening the already grim outlook of Survival for Black Americans in America.
Since January, nearly 250,000 cases have been confirmed across the country and the Death toll in the U.S. has topped 5,000. And many more cases have undoubtedly not been discovered due to a lack of testing. The outbreak of this deadly respiratory illness is especially worrisome for Black Americans and their vulnerable communities.
Long before the coronavirus came along, Black Americans were facing very extreme and significant challenges in every aspect of American society, including within the health care sector. While no corner of American society is likely to be untouched by Covid-19, many world-renowned experts are concerned that the virus might leave a fatal wake once it spreads in the Black communities such as Braddock, PA and those like it. Early numbers indicate the mortality of coronavirus infection rises when patients have underlying health concerns.
Those concerns would include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, lung diseases including asthma and chronic bronchitis, and autoimmune diseases like lupus hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer. – all disproportionately found in Black Americans.
One study in Wuhan, China, found that more than half the deaths occurred among those who had conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Another study in Italy reported that upwards of 99 percent of deaths were among people with prior medical conditions.
In the U.S., data already suggest that Black communities, especially those in the South or those near polluters, bear the highest Death rates from lower respiratory infections. Underlying health conditions of the type that can turn coronavirus from several days of misery into a life-threatening illness leading to Death for many Black Americans.
Compounding the situation is a troubling history of racism, neglect, structural violence and exploitation that has sometimes led Black Americans to avoid doctors and distrust medical treatment. Past infamies like the Tuskegee syphilis study embedded suspicion among Black Americans that they might be used as “guinea pigs” for testing vaccines and treatment.
In addition, many states have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. To be clear, although Covid-19 does not discriminate along racial or ethnic lines, existing racial disparities, institutional racism, social injustice and inequities in health outcomes and health care access for Black Americans may mean that the nation’s response to preventing and mitigating its harms will not be felt equally in every community.
Many on the front lines across America are reporting seeing racial disparities in treatments and that Black Americans are being hit particularly hard by the disease. Many are not being tested and turned away when showing up in the ER. Many are being told to sleep it off, only to later have died at home or after showing back up at the hospital.
A clear pattern is emerging indicating that Black Americans aren’t responding well to the virus and aren’t being viewed in the same manner as other non-Black victims.
Reports also indicate that many infected people in Black communities may be gravely ill before they even seek care because more of the Black population lacks health insurance. Even after the testing shortage is overcome, people without health insurance are still likely to hesitate to seek timely care even if they have all the symptoms of the infection for fear of creating medical bills they can’t afford, even though legislation has been passed to wave the fee’s. There is a lack of credible information and critical knowledge reaching the Black community.
In many ways, the United States was fortunate that Seattle was the beachhead for the epidemic. The Seattle-King County public health department and the Washington State public health department are two of the best in the country. And so as bad as it looks, it probably would have been much worse with a weaker health department that didn’t have a host of advantages, including a large cadre of very well-trained public health workers. In comparison to many other cities, the Seattle area is also generally wealthier, younger, healthier and well insured to a point.
A far different health ecosystem awaits in Americas Black communities. The less healthy the population, the more likely the epidemic is to have fatal consequences for individuals, young, middle aged and elderly. And the weaker and dismissive towards Black Americans the health system, the harder it will be to contain the spread in the Black community.
A recent wave of hospital closures in or near Black communities over the past decade, closures like the one that shut down Braddock, PA’s hospital, hasn’t helped either. Throughout the county hospital Closures have left many with no nearby hospital to go to. Beset by poorer health, curbed health care access, neglect, abandonment by government at all levels and little to NO Action by subservient Black leadership, Black Americans may be in for a biblical reckoning.
Black communities are disproportionately uninsured or under-insured and have fewer financial resources and employment benefits with which to weather this major public health emergency. Nothing demonstrates this vulnerability more vividly than the dramatic and persistent inter-generational racial wealth gap.
The COVID-19 pandemic is another stark reminder that NEW and emerging Black leadership must address wealth inequality, the growing Racism “Health crises” and make asset security a top Black Agenda priority moving forwards among a host of other things.
When unexpected emergencies occur, an individual’s or a family’s wealth can provide them with protection. Generational Wealth, especially liquid wealth—resources that can be readily converted into cash—allows individuals and families to respond to life events and unexpected expenses, such as loss of income and virtually any expenses that may result from a pandemic.
Unfortunately, and unjustly, everyone is aware that wealth has been unequally distributed in America. Even in the best of times, Black Americans have always faced daunting economic, health and medical issues. Even though America’s great wealth was build and obtained on the backs of slaves.
Many public health experts fear a potentially dire situation. As the novel coronavirus becomes an epidemic here in the United States, it will exacerbate the vulnerabilities of resource-strapped Black Americans and cause devastating consequences. The virus is an equal-opportunity crisis, but the impact and the long-term burden of it is not going to be shared equally.
Like most things in American society, it’s going to be regressive. It’s going to be felt disproportionately by the poor, most vulnerable, the marginalized, and obviously in America, that means in the end, it’s all going to circle around back to Black Americans, shining a bright light on their brutal history here in America.
The C.D.C. is currently failing to collect and publicly report on the racial and ethnic demographic information of patients tested for and affected by Covid-19. The decisions to test individuals for the novel coronavirus may be ‘more vulnerable to the implicit biases that every patient and medical professional carry around with them,’ potentially causing Black communities to Disproportionately miss out on getting tested for Covid-19.
Emerging new Black Leadership must demand more data to understand if these observations are anomalous or endemic in scope. They need to know just exactly who’s being removed from ventilators and left to die, and then who are those ventilators being given too.
This pandemic is a watershed moment in history that has brought to light the harm that racism, structural violence, economic deprivation and a lack of wealth can inflict upon Black American individuals and families.
In the current situation, it is crucial to realize that wealth provides security to handle an unexpected health and financial emergency. And those families who are more likely to experience the fallout from this crisis will be disproportionately nonwhite families with low levels of wealth and stability. All here in the wealthiest nation on Earth.
Black Americans were forced into ‘social distancing’ long before the coronavirus in the form of redlining and economic injustice and if Black leadership does not immediately address the structural inequalities in this country, the recovery will be uneven and enduring. Far from a cure, this form of social distancing, endured by Black Americans since the inception of America, has created a social disease that has made many of us sick—literally.
As officials implore the nation to practice “social distancing,” we should remember that, throughout history, it is that same concept which has made some Americans more vulnerable to the physical, emotional and economic effects of the coronavirus, as well as other hardships that will surly follow. We are at war with not just the virus, but our past historical mistakes. Now is the time for emerging Black leadership to step up to create the kind of social safety net that America’s segregated communities never received.
If Black leadership will not address the extrem racism and ongoing discrimination that is baked into current policy, efforts to address this pandemic and other pressing issues will be undermined by the past practices that led to such inequality and injustice. The proliferation of the coronavirus forces ALL of America and the rest of the world to see the inherent connections we share in a way that our public policy has not always recognized.
Emerging Black policymakers need to see opportunities to bring historically disenfranchised communities closer to the systems they’ve been excluded from. Even better yet, they need to seize the opportunity to dismantle the system Black Americans have been excluded from and construct a new one if not for those who thrived in the current one, one for themselves and those whom they serve.
To start, Black policy makers and local leaders should ensure that the human services side of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees many major welfare programs, and other domestic agencies are fully engaged in the messaging for coronavirus prevention, testing, and treatment strategy.
If they have not already done so, regional administrators and staff headquartered in major cities across the country must be brought into communication, public education, planning, and outreach to reinforce hygiene technique, social distancing, response planning, and treatment messaging. If such widespread outbreaks in low income communities occur, these regional networks, which often include trusted faith and local nonprofit groups, would be critical channels of communication, access to services, and treatment.
Following this horrific crisis and starting TODAY, it will be imperative for Black Leadership to take on structural changes to U.S. economic, social and judicial policies to ensure that the necessary health and economic infrastructure is in place the next time the country faces a pandemic or looming disaster stemming from climate insecurity or the ongoing racial injustice that is still plaguing America to this very day.
Closing the unjust racial wealth gap, dismantling institutional racism, ongoing discriminatory practices and the unjust judicial system should be a top Black Agenda priority moving forwards to ensure more equitable, just, and resilient Black communities and sustainable Black life here in America.
News media outlets, national leadership, pundits, the privileged and subservient Black leadership like to say, “we’re all in this together,” but Black Americans have every right to ask, “but will we all emerge from it together?”
In critical and historic times like this I would ask Black Americans and those pure at heart to question who’s at the table and who’s not at the table and to think about those voices that aren’t represented when the critical decisions are being made concerning what’s best for Black Americans. Meaningful Change depends on ordinary people who have the courage to say, ‘Enough is enough” and “No more”.
Even though we’re a relatively new, small and struggling organization, we’re pushing forwards on with our plans to develop our our facility to operate out of and we’re coming to learn that, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. A few people of integrity can go a long way.
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