HEALTH

COVID-19 impacting communities of color hardest

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

You will sometimes hear people say how the coronavirus crisis — and crises like it — show how we are “all in this together,” but the fact remains that some of us are getting hit harder by this crisis than others. As COVID-19 tightens its grip on the world’s psyche, it is now becoming more clear that people of color and the poor are suffering most from its ill effects.

“I think that as this crisis continues to evolve, everybody is understanding that it’s simply revealing already existing, pernicious levels of inequality — both economic and racial — that exist around the country. And New Jersey is simply no different,” said Brandon McKoy, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective.

New Jersey’s statistics are incomplete, but officials say just over 20% of COVID-19 fatalities are black. Blacks make up just 14% of the state’s overall population. More complete numbers around the country are even more stark. The reasons are also no surprise, with much higher instances of underlying conditions affecting populations of color.

“This is a real issue overall in our nation, the racial disparities in everything from maternal mortality to diabetes rates and those comorbidities, those issues, make African Americans much more susceptible to the complications and challenges that come. It’s really tragic what we’re seeing, the wild disparities in outcomes,” Sen. Cory Booker said.

Obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease are all factors focusing the destruction of this pandemic on communities of color. Shereef Elnahal runs University Hospital in Newark.

“Our population is vulnerable at baseline. They have other problems and to add coronavirus to their already difficult list of problems is making them stay in our hospital longer. I fear that we’re going to see a little bit longer of a course in our hospital,” said Elnahal.

Long-time activist Larry Hamm suggests this is not a new phenomenon.

“The delivery systems for health care have been historically inadequate in our communities. Even before this COVID-19 crisis, hospitals across the state of New jersey were being closed up. I am sure right now everyone can see the folly and insanity of closing hospitals,” Hamm, preside of the Peoples Organization for Progress, said. “Our health care system is not just woefully unprepared; it is totally inadequate, not just for the present but for the future. This is not going to be the last virus attack that we’re going to experience.”

“What I do hope is that as people see this disproportionate impact and realize how harmful it is, that it spurs people to actually be more intentional about dealing with these inequalities, dealing with these disparities, in a real way that’s going to be long lasting rather than just paying lip service to it as we as a society have for a very, very long time,” McKoy said.

And that means frank discussions about reforms to existing institutions – educational, medical and economic – that we all rely on but don’t always have equal access to, discussions that should be taking place especially now — in times of crisis — when the need is most apparent.