After an outcry from state lawmakers and health advocates, the Maryland Department of Health released data last week on Blacks affected by the coronavirus.
It wasn’t surprising to Black state and county officials to see that Blacks account for at least 34 percent of the confirmed cases statewide.
As of Monday, April 13, Blacks accounted for 392 of the 605 residents hospitalized, or 65 percent.
“What we take from the numbers is that now the rest of the world know what our reality is every day,” said Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. “In Prince George’s County, you can imagine the wealthiest, predominately African-American county in the country struggles to invite restaurants here that bring healthy foods. It struggles to bring grocers here.
“We want to encourage [businesses] to bring their quality dining to Prince George’s County. To bring those grocers to Prince George’s County so that we don’t have those negative health outcomes that we’re seeing now that is killing us.”
Now that there’s data, the goal will be to target where to target resources, critical care and other needs.
Prince George’s continues to lead the state in the most confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Residents can view daily updates at princegeorgescountymd.gov, which shows confirmed cases by zip code.
Alsobrooks wants to ensure those who died are remembered by their names as opposed to a number, such as Terrence Burke, 54, a counselor and boys varsity basketball coach at Northwestern High School in Adelphi. She also mentioned Leilani Jordan, 27, a greeter at Giant Food at Largo who had a disability but still managed to help navigate seniors around the store.
“As we give the numbers every day, we are ever mindful [that] we are talking about lives,” she said. “We’re talking about people who are near and dear to us. This fight for us is personal.”
The county has reached out to Gov. Larry Hogan for more testing kits, personal protective equipment and other resources to combat the virus.
A testing and screening site opened last month at FedEx Field in Landover, serving an average of 100 people a day during the three days per week it operates. All visits are free but must be made by appointment. Residents can call 301-883-6627 for more information.
Triage tents have been set up at Medstar Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton, Doctor’s Community Hospital in Lanham and the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly. Another 135 beds are scheduled for availability later this month at the previously closed Laurel Hospital.
Health officials continue to stress proper hygiene — vigorous hand-washing and cover the mouth with an elbow when coughing, for instance — to decrease the spread of germs, as well as social distancing practices such as keeping at least six feet between all persons while in public.
Chris Beyrer, professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the coronavirus can affect Blacks more because of underlying health ailments such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
“There is higher morbidity with this virus and higher mortality with this virus among African Americans,” Beyrer said. “Many of the underlying conditions … that are associated with poor outcomes and death from COVID-19 are also higher prevalence and higher burden in African-American communities.”
Alsobrooks said there remain concerns some residents won’t call the health department for fear of having to provide private information.
“One of the greatest concerns we have is people will die at home,” she said. “We are here just to save lives and we want everyone in our community to know that they are welcomed.”