PHN Explores: “Black Americans and Hispanic and Latino Americans have been disproportionately impacted by COVID.” (From CBS’ Face The Nation)
PHN Content By Mat Edelson
If We Had Written the Headline
…Yes, but policy makers can immediately lessen this deadly inequity by reallocating existing resources
Why You Should Care
We can think of two reasons why you should deeply care: A) Because moving vital health resources to communities most impacted by Covid-19 is the humane, moral thing to do, and; B) Because every single person infected is someone who can infect someone else, so why wouldn’t everyone want people in hot spots–the very same people most likely to provide us with front-line care and essential services—to get the coronavirus information, protection, testing and care they so desperately need?
The differing death rates from Covid-19 in Los Angeles County:
- 13 deaths per 100,000 Caucasians
- 22 deaths per 100,000 Latinos (70% higher than Caucasians)
- 26 deaths per 100,000 African-Americans (100% higher, or double)
- 53 to 154 deaths per 100,000 Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (Four to 12 times higher)
(Source: The Los Angeles Times)
If you’ve been following the news at all, our Face the Nation headline (actually a quote from their guest, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb), should come as no surprise.
The extent to which poor, minority communities are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus is truly horrifying. We’re talking infection and death rates often two to three times higher than in affluent, majority white communities in the same city.
As Gottlieb says, individuals from poor, minority communities face excessive risk for many reasons. Some are long-standing: These include little access to health care, higher rates of pre-existing conditions, and greater exposure to infectious disease spread because of living in close-quartered public housing.
However, some risk factors are exacerbated by this pandemic: Essential workers from poor neighborhoods often rely on coronavirus-prone public transportation to get to their jobs. Once at work, there’s often little to no social distancing or workplace-provided protective equipment. And of course there’s the recent large and largely peaceful protests which are bringing many people from these and other communities together with no social distancing, though fortunately many participants are using masks (and yes, we get that some protestors wear masks because they understandably fear tear gas and pepper spray more than coronavirus. Still, these same masks offer some protection against virus spread).
Taken as a whole, it’s important that policymakers are keenly aware of the disproportionate numbers and the contributory factors, which are expanded upon in the pieces we’ve linked to below (see Related stories). But it’s even more crucial that they implement the immediate solutions available as testing ramps up nationwide. Dr. Gottlieb mentions several immediate steps, including;
- Making more testing available in the heart of vulnerable communities, and;
- Creating on-site testing in workplaces where social distancing is difficult or impossible. (We’re talking places like industrial kitchens, manufacturing plants, etc.).
Other experts expand on better ways of informing and assisting populations particularly vulnerable to the virus. These include;
- Making coronavirus information and resources available in Spanish and other languages (see Resources);
- Utilizing community and religious leaders and celebrities to deliver creative coronavirus-related content across news and social media platforms (as an example, the Spanish-language music video “La Cumbia del Coronavirus,” with lyrics cajoling people to stay-at-home, wash their hands, use disinfectants, etc., has more than 6 million You Tube views).
The point is, to control the coronavirus, our most vulnerable populations must get immediate access to all the resources they need. To do otherwise is both unconscionable and ultimately self-defeating to everyone’s health.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner
Here’s an example of a city–Milwaukee–already reallocating resources in a way that’s catching the attention of congresspeople including Senator Elizabeth Warren. This Washington Post story conveys the desperation and home grown solutions arising from that city’s hardest-hit residents. Covid-19 is ravaging black communities. A Milwaukee neighborhood is figuring out how to fight back. (See the story)
Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, had an illuminating conversation with Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable, Director of NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, on how Covid-19 disproportionately affects poor and minority communities. (Read the transcript or see the video)
Also, here is an excellent opinion piece from Scientific American, where the authors, three Dominican Americans (one a Harvard physician/scientist, the other two MD/MPH candidates) give a personal take on the issue, backed by frightening data: The COVID-19 Response Is Failing Communities of Color: To build trust with traditionally underserved groups, health officials need to craft their messaging in a much more culturally sensitive way (From Scientific American)
Finally, this piece in The Atlantic looks at how the protests will impact coronavirus cases: The Protests Will Spread the Coronavirus (Read the story)
We mentioned delivering Spanish-language coronavirus information. Here’s a comprehensive health site called Salúd America! It’s funded by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation, and is the brainchild of Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez. She’s director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT-San Antonio’s Health Science Center. (Access Salúd America’s website)
We also mentioned music being a way to connect people to coronavirus information (or just express quarantine frustration). Turns out “La Cumbia del Coronavirus” is far from the only coronavirus-related song stay-at-home musicians created. There are a whole bunch we found (and not all are language-appropriate for the kiddies, so be forewarned). You can see and listen to them here; The Songs of Coronavirus and Lockdown Life (from “The Arts Desk.” a British arts and music journalism site)
If you have the time and are looking for an academic perspective, here’s an outstanding recent roundtable webinar (Zoom stay-at-home version) on health disparities in the age of Covid-19 from the National Academy of Sciences. It includes health researchers from Kaiser Permanente, University of Wiscosin, LSU Health, University of Maryland, USC, and Northwestern University: Pursuing Data on COVID-19: The Health Inequity Multiplier (from the National Academy of Sciences)
The term health disparities means different things depending upon whom you ask. We prefer the somewhat lengthy definition provided by Medline Plus from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Here’s what they have to say, quote:
“Health disparities are health differences between different groups of people. These health differences may include:
- How many people get certain diseases
- How severe the diseases are
- How many people have complications because of the diseases
- How many people die from a disease
- Whether people can get health care
- How many people get screened for a disease
These groups of people may be based on:
- Immigrant status
- Sex or gender
- Sexual orientation
- Level of education”
Source: Medline Plus-Health Disparities (Summary)