EDITORIAL: African Americans and COVID-19

Just two months ago, rumors were circulating that African Americans were immune to the coronavirus that so far has infected more than 400,000 and killed nearly 13,000 people in the U.S. alone. Most of the faces of the victims shown on the front pages of the daily newspapers, on the lead stories of most news channels and in interviews, have been predominantly of non-African Americans. Politicians, policymakers, health care professionals, and patients have shown little diversity. But the story is quickly changing, and African Americans are proving to be disproportionately impacted more by the coronavirus, not only as victims but as front-line health care workers, as well.

In a press conference Tuesday with Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and members of the CBC executive committee, she warned that it is dangerous to equate the pandemic to a Black virus. By doing so, she said, it could result in a diminishing need for testing and care for a group of Americans that already disproportionately suffer from preexisting conditions that exacerbate the impact of the virus and lead to death. Black health care advocates have been issuing a warning for months. They’ve predicted what could be the impact of a health care crisis would have on black and brown communities that have poor health and, more often than not, lack access to quality full-service health care.

President Trump was asked at his daily news conference on Tuesday, whether he was aware of the disproportionate impact of the virus on African Americans, and particularly African American men. Trump appeared legitimately concerned over the news he said he learned just two or three days prior. “These numbers are starting to come out,” he said and suggested that his team will soon be looking more closely at the numbers to see why African Americans are so disproportionately impacted. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he said, “and I don’t like it.”

But the numbers are showing that African Americans have a slightly higher disproportionate incidence and rate of death due to coronavirus than other groups. And, this is documented in cities all across the country, particularly in Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. In Chicago, African Americans represent more than 70 percent of the COVID-19-related deaths. This past weekend in D.C., residents were alarmed at crowds of African Americans clearly ignoring the rules of social distancing.

We join those that continuously ask: What will it take for African Americans to heed the warning that certain behaviors are undeniably death sentences? What will it take to convince more of us to put our health into our own hands and demonstrate that the quality of our personal life matters? We all want to return to life before the coronavirus struck, but not to habits that knowingly end lives too soon.

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