African Americans make up about 14% of the U.S. population but, according to a recent statistic recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they make up at least 30% of the total number of Covid-19 cases. Photo courtesy I. smiley G. Calderón

Corona Blues: COVID-19 and Our Black Community

By I. smiley G. Calderon

Emerging data and statistics about the mortality of the deadly novel Covid-19 disease have disturbingly shown Black Americans suffering at greater percentages and rates than other groups at various hotspots here in the United States. Everywhere across the country, there is an alarming trend that Black people are dying from this disease at a disproportionate rate in comparison to other ethnicities.

For example, in Michigan, where African Americans make up only 14% of the total population, they account for more than 40% of the deaths from Covid-19. In Louisiana, more than 70% of those who have died from this disease were Black—even though Black people make up only about 32% of the total state population. In Illinois, a state that is only 15% Black, more than 41% of Covid-19 related deaths are Black people.

Countless states have seen the same trend. The news is especially worse in New York City, where more than 13,000 souls have perished because of this modern-day plague. African Americans there are dying more than any other group.

Why is this happening? What the hell is going on?

Some have pointed to the fact that circulating articles on social media sites such as Facebook that falsely suggest that African Americans might be immune or especially resilient to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease) are to blame for Black people’s initial disbelief and inaction in protecting themselves from this mortal threat.

For example, articles such as one from Blackmentravels.com entitled “People of Color May Be Immune to the Coronavirus Because of Melanin” might have influenced countless African Americans with a false sense of security that ultimately left them utterly vulnerable to coronavirus devastation.

However, the medical fact of the matter is, of course, that melanin, the natural pigment polymer that colors our skin and hair, does not provide any special antiviral protection against the coronavirus. We need to listen to our medical experts for medical advice and stop believing folk tales. We need to look at science now more than ever.

Because there are no known effective treatments or cures for this disease at this time, or any available vaccine, the only way for people to foolproof protect themselves from Covid-19 is to self-isolate and practice social distancing along with frequent hand washing and sanitizing to prevent self-inoculation.

Our best (and only) strategy at this time is to do everything we can to not be in the vicinity of the coronavirus—to do everything in our power to not contract this disease. This is why social distancing and wearing face masks that fully cover our mouths and noses are so crucial at this critical stage of the virus spread. Washing and sanitizing surfaces can help curtail its spread.  

But even these measures might not be sufficient. The coronavirus is super contagious and highly infectious and transmittable; it’s seemingly omnipresent and unescapable. Some people get infected with it without even knowing it, without any symptoms at all—all while still being highly contagious— a cruel and dangerous reality that has brought this deadly disease to the front porch of more than 723,000 American families, resulting in more than 34,000 deaths nationwide of our most medically vulnerable to date.

The sad truth is that Black people in America suffer from a health disparity, rooted in historical racism and poverty, that has resulted in poor health. Today, many African Americans have serious medical problems such as hypertension, morbid obesity, diabetes and asthma. These underlying comorbidities heighten one’s risk for a bad outcome if infected by the coronavirus, something that the Black community has painfully seen firsthand across the country.

African-Americans make up about 14% of the U.S. population but, according to a recent statistic recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they make up at least 30% of the total number of Covid-19 cases.

Dr. Celia J. Maxwell, an infectious disease doctor and associate dean at Howard University Medical School, an Historically Black College and University (HBCU), believes that things are going to get even worse.

“It will be unimaginable,” Dr. Maxwell told ProPublica about the alarming disproportionate Covid-19 mortality rate for African Americans. And it already is unimaginable.

Too many Black families today have suffered because of it—already with preexisting health problems. This new virus attacks our health vulnerabilities in a deadly mix of a perfect storm of sickness. “And anything that comes around is going to be worse in our patients. Period,” says Dr. Maxwell. “Many of our patients have so many problems, but this is kind of like the nail in the coffin.”

It makes sense that those with limited or poor access to medical services, whether due to poverty or lack of nearby services, will have worse health conditions. They are unable to get the proper medical treatment that they need to manage their illnesses. The result: sicker people who are extra vulnerable and susceptible to today’s pandemic.

Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Camara Jones, a previous longtime researcher at the CDC, says that “the reasons for this are…low levels of access to medical care.” She believes that this crucial disparity is rooted in systemic racism.

She told ProPublica that “Covid-19 is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation…This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance.”

That’s right: It’s no coincidence that there are disproportionately more African American coronavirus deaths. The American healthcare system has not been fair, and Black people are paying the price.

Here in Fresno County, a county of about one million people, we have so far been spared Covid-19 carnage, thank God. Unlike many hotspots around the country, which have seen endless death on a daily basis because of the coronavirus, we have had seven deaths—of 315 confirmed infections—a mortality rate of 2.2%. This information can be tracked on the county’s Web site.

Of these 315 cases, like most everywhere else across the United States, African Americans are leading the way. According to the county’s epidemiology Web page, Black people make up 24 incidences per 100,000 of the 315 coronavirus cases, the greatest percentage of cases attributed to one single ethnicity. Fresno County is only about 6% African American.  

Fresno County has not yet released the ethnicities of the deceased, but if it is like any other place across the country, we already know what that means.

It means that we need to continue to stay vigilant in solidarity against this horrible virus. It means that we need to steadfastly practice social distancing to protect ourselves from infection. By any means necessary. It means that we need to persevere in this fight for our lives against Covid-19. During these horribly perilous Corona Blues times, we need to support our Black community.

*****

I. smiley G. Calderon is a Rogue Festival performer. Contact him at smileygcalderon@gmail.com.

References:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tomiobaro/if-youre-black-and-are-affected-by-covid-19-we-want-to-hear

https://www.propublica.org/article/early-data-shows-african-americans-have-contracted-and-died-of-coronavirus-at-an-alarming-rate

https://www.co.fresno.ca.us/departments/public-health/covid-19

https://cofgisonline.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=1f82e8eb24c0403c90e774202c5dafea

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  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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