Coronavirus case data shows that African Americans may be disproportionately affected, prompting Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand testing throughout communities.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not broken down coronavirus infections by race, local data from Milwaukee, Illinois and Wisconsin backs the senators’ call for the CDC to address the ‘existing racial disparities in health care access’ for coronavirus patients.
In Illinois, black people make up 30 percent of the state’s 10,360 cases, with 3,120 infections, while white people make up 29 percent of cases. However, the state’s population is about 60 percent white and 14 percent black.
As of Sunday in Michigan, African Americans made up 34 percent of cases and 40 percent of deaths. However, only 14 percent of the population is black.
Milwaukee’s coronavirus sick have mainly been African American men. The Wisconsin city went from having one COVID-19 case to nearly 40 in the space of a week. The figure leapt to 350 by the following week.
In Milwaukee County, a graphic shows that 521 of the 1,122 total cases, or 46 percent, are black people. Yet the county’s total population is only 26 percent black. Meanwhile, white people make up 24 percent of cases.
In Illinois, black people make up 3,120 of the 10,360 total cases, or 30 percent, although the state’s population is only 14 percent black. White people, who make up 60 percent of the population, are 29 percent of cases, with 2,965 total
As of Sunday in Michigan, African Americans made up 34 percent of cases and 40 percent of deaths. However only 14 percent of the population is black. White people constituted 24 percent of cases and 29 percent of deaths while making up 79 percent of the total population
On March 27, five congressional Democrats wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, stating ‘how persistent inequities may exacerbate these disparities in the weeks and months to come as our nation responds to this global health pandemic’.
‘The CDC is currently failing to collect and publicly report on the racial and ethnic demographic information of patients tested for and affected by COVID-19,’ the letter continues. ‘Our concerns echo those from some physicians: that decisions to test individuals for the novel coronavirus may be ‘more vulnerable to the implicit biases that every patient and medical professional carry around with them,’ potentially causing ‘black communities and other underserved groups …[to] disproportionately mis[s] out on getting tested for COVID-19.
‘Although COVID-19 does not discriminate along racial or ethnic lines, existing racial disparities and inequities in health outcomes and health care access may mean that the nation’s response to preventing and mitigating its harms will not be felt equally in every community.’
Healthcare experts believe socio-economic factors, such as job type, make black people more likely to be exposed to the virus and others such as lack of access to and a distrust of healthcare, make African Americans more likely to die.
History has shown African Americans disproportionately suffer from asthma, diabetes and maternal death. The CDC recognizes respiratory illnesses, diabetes and pregnancy as underlying health factors that increase risks in the coronavirus pandemic.
A ProPublica report noted that Detroit, which has a majority black population, has emerged as a hotspot. Louisiana has also been classified as a hotspot by President Trump. In Orleans Parish, where 40 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred, the majority of the residents are African American.
In this March 30, 2020, file photo, a worker leaves the the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building in Milwaukee. The Wisconsin city is one of a few to track ethnicity in the coronavirus cases
Experts say the black population is less likely to be able to stick to social distancing guidelines due to socio-economic factors such as lower income and ‘essential jobs’. A man covers his face with a mask while shopping at Pick ‘N Save near 60th and Capitol, last Saturday
‘COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation,’ Dr. Camara Jones, a family physician, epidemiologist and visiting fellow at Harvard University, told ProPublica.
Jones spent 13 years at the CDC, identifying, measuring and addressing racial bias within the medical system. The CDC declined to comment when asked by ProPublica if they were keeping a record during the pandemic.
‘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. … It’s because we’re not valued.
WHAT ARE THE CORONAVIRUS SYMPTOMS?
The virus, called COVID-19, is transmitted from person to person via droplets when an infected person breathes out, coughs or sneezes.
It can also spread via contaminated surfaces such as door handles or railings.
Coronavirus infections have a wide range of symptoms, including fever, coughing, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
Mild cases can cause cold-like symptoms including a sore throat, headache, fever, cough or trouble breathing.
Severe cases can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory illness, kidney failure and death.
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.
As of Sunday, statistics showed Milwaukee county as having 1,122 cases and 34 people had died. A total of 272 were white, 16 ‘other’ and 12 Asian. Of the city’s entire population, 39 percent of residents are black. The county is 26 percent black.
Eleven of the people who died had diabetes, eight had hypertension and 15 chronic health conditions such as heart and lung disease.
‘It will be unimaginable pretty soon,’ infectious disease physician and associate dean at Howard University College of Medicine, Dr. Celia J. Maxwell, told PropPublica. ‘And anything that comes around is going to be worse in our patients. Period. Many of our patients have so many problems, but this is kind of like the nail in the coffin.’
In Milwaukee, the average life expectancy for a black person is 14 years shorter than a white person.
Coronavirus cases across the country and around the world have mainly focused on the age of victims but in Milwaukee a variety of ages have been struck down with the virus, and approximately half of the victims are African American.
One of the reasons Milwaukee has been publishing race as a factor in the coronavirus pandemic is because the city has ‘declared racism as a public health issue’.
‘It frames not only how we do our work but how transparent we are about how things are going. It impacts how we manage an outbreak,’ Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik told ProPublica. ‘What black folks are accustomed to in Milwaukee and anywhere in the country, really, is pain not being acknowledged and constant inequities that happen in health care delivery.’
The ProPublica report uses an example of a 25-year-old woman who ended up leaving hospital because she couldn’t get immediate treatment for chest pains. She died soon afterward.
Head of the Milwaukee NAACP, Fred Royal, said he knew three people who had died from coronavirus and one was his 38-year-old cousin who was told to self-medicate. He said it was ‘alarming’ that people were being told to self-medicate or sent home pending test results amid the pandemic, only to die.
Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren (left), Cory Booker (center), Kamala Harris (right) urged the Department of Health and Human Services to expanding testing in communities
Joined by Congress Members Robin L. Kelly and Ayanna Pressley, they wrote: ‘People of color and immigrants are also less likely to be insured, and many communities of color have shortages of quality health care providers, making it difficult to access appropriate and timely care’
A 2019 study from the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that black people were 40 percent less likely than white people to receive medication for acute pain because they were perceived as having a higher pain threshold.
As well as being less likely to have the adequate healthcare insurance coverage, it’s believed African Americans may be more likely to be exposed to coronavirus due to other factors that can compromise social distancing.
‘Who are we getting these complaints from?’ Kowalik told ProPublica. ‘Many people of color.’
Black people were deemed more likely to work in an ‘essential’ job role such as food supply, health care, transportation and government, that don’t allow for remote work amid lockdowns. The population in Milwaukee County earns 50 percent less than white counterparts.
African Americans were more likely to still be rising the New York subway, despite the city being the worst suffering in the world amid the pandemic, ProPublica reported.
The congressional letter continued that low-income people are more likely to have many of the chronic health conditions that experts have identified as risk factors for complications from COVID-19.
Ivy Moore, of Glendale, uses balaclava made for fishing to fill in for a medical mask and to keep warm on the Milwaukee River in Keltzsch Park in Glendale met a with some success fishing for steelhead or rainbow trout last Sunday
North Carolina is also recording recording cases by race amid the coronavirus pandemic
‘For example, Black and Hispanic adults are more likely to suffer from obesity and diabetes than non-Hispanic white adults. Asthma is also more prevalent among Black and Hispanic adults and children. People of color and immigrants are also less likely to be insured, and many communities of color have shortages of quality health care providers, making it difficult to access appropriate and timely care,’ the congress people wrote.
‘Furthermore, a history of discrimination and marginalization has left some people of color distrustful of the medical system, making them less likely to seek out timely care.’
It adds that people of color have ‘fewer financial resources to draw on in the event of health problems or economic disruption’.
The letter also warns of the devastating effects the CDC’s ‘subjective criteria’ testing could have.
A community health researcher at Boston University’s School of Social Work, agreed that testing areas need a closer look.
‘When COVID-19 passes and we see the losses … it will be deeply tied to the story of post-World War II policies that left communities marginalized,’ Linda Sprague Martinez told ProPublica. ‘Its impact is going to be tied to our history and legacy of racial inequities. It’s going to be tied to the fact that we live in two very different worlds.’
‘This is a matter of taking a look at how our history kept people from actually being fully included,’ for Government Alliance on Race and Equity, said Gordon Francis Goodwin, added to ProPublica.
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high.
There are two main types of diabetes:
– Type 1, where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin.
– Type 2, where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1.
In the UK, around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2.
Reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes can be achieved through healthy eating, regular exercise and achieving a healthy body weight.
The main symptoms of diabetes include: feeling very thirsty, urinating more frequently (particularly at night), feeling very tired, weight loss, and loss of muscle bulk.
DO FACE MASKS MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND WHAT SHOULD YOU WEAR IF YOU CAN’T GET ONE?
Americans are increasingly being spotted wearing face masks in public amid the coronavirus pandemic, as are people are around the globe.
Soon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may advise all Americans to cover their faces when they leave the house, the Washington Post reported.
The agency is weighing that recommendation after initially telling Americans that they didn’t need to wear masks and that anything other than a high-grade N95 medical mask would do little to prevent infection any way.
FACE MASKS DO HELP PREVENT INFECTION – BUT THEY’RE NOT ALL CREATED EQUAL
Research on how well various types of masks and face coverings varies but, recently, and in light of the pandemic of COVID-19, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing.
A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
It’s too early for their to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks.
The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials.
N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous.
This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose.
Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria.
For this reason, a JAMA study published this month still contended that people without symptoms should not wear surgical masks, because there is not proof the gear will protect them from infection – although they may keep people who are coughing and sneezing from infecting others.
But the Oxford analysis of past studies – which has not yet been peer reviewed – found that surgical masks were worth wearing and didn’t provide statistically less protection than N95 for health care workers around flu patients.
However, any face mask is only as good as other health and hygiene practices. Experts universally agree that there’s simply no replacement for thorough, frequent hand-washing for preventing disease transmission.
Some think the masks may also help to ‘train’ people not to touch their faces, while others argue that the unfamiliar garment will just make people do it more, actually raising infection risks.
If the CDC does instruct Americans to wear masks, it could create a second issue: Hospitals already face shortages of masks and other PPE.
WHAT TO USE TO COVER YOUR FACE IF YOU DON’T HAVE A MASK
So the agency may recommend regular citizens use alternatives like cloth masks or bandanas.
‘Homemade masks theoretically could offer some protection if the materials and fit were optimized, but this is uncertain,’ Dr Jeffrey Duchin, a Seattle health official told the Washington Post.
A 2013 study found that next to a surgical mask, a vacuum cleaner bag provided the best material for a homemade mask.
After a vacuum bag, kitchen towels were fairly protective, but uncomfortable. Masks made of T-shirts were very tolerable, but only worked a third as well as surgical mask. The Cambridge University researchers concluded that homemade masks should only be used ‘as a last resort.’
But as the pandemic has spread to more than 164,000 people worldwide, it might be time to consider last resort options.
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