COVID-19 and black communities

Of the limited reports available to the public surrounding COVID-19 and race, data reported by the Washington Post has shown that African-Americans appear to be contracting the disease and dying at disproportionate rates.

Here in Louisiana, the Times-Picayune reported that African-Americans account for 70% of the deaths of coronavirus.

NPR reported that the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said there’s no scientific basis to say that people of color are "biologically or genetically predisposed to get COVID-19," but that they are "socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure, and have a higher incidence of the very diseases that put you at risk for severe complications of coronavirus."

Adams urged communities of color to heed his warnings, using language that some have criticized him for: "Speaking of mothers, we need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela. Do it for your granddaddy, do it for your Big Mama, do it for your pop-pop”,

Aaron Ahlquist, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said one of the things he thinks that the virus has done is “peel away some of our societal veneer and let us see into some of the underlying challenges that we face globally, but particularly in the United States.”

He noted that other minority groups have also been suffering disproportionally by the virus:

“You’ve identified the African-American community. If you look at New York, they have increased incidence rates within the Latino community as well, you have several Native American navajo-pueblos in Arizona that have higher incidence rates than anywhere … It’s not just the African-American community, but I think what we’re seeing is it disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities.”

Ahlquist suggested that people must look beyond just observing underlying factors or pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart conditions, and that they must ask why these are occurring in the first place. Questioning access to healthcare, healthcare options, potential bias in health care systems, and how minority populations are experiencing healthcare in our nation are his points of inquiry.

“How do we start eliminating those vulnerabilities?” Ahlquist said. “If those vulnerabilities are an issue of access and equity, then the real conversation is how do we increase access and address equity challenges that have plagued our nation — and this, especially, region — forever. It’s having those conversations that let us get to the other side of this in a positive direction.”

Takuna El Shabazz — former NAACP member, author, USL (UL Lafayette) alumni, and founding member of the CCBE (Conscientious Council of Black Elders) — said he believes that social and economic factors play a role in the spread of the virus.

“For instance, the social distancing efforts,” El Shabbazz said, “the reality of it in the black community is oftentimes the living conditions are such where it’s almost impossible to practice that behavior. You may have a two-bedroom house where you have 5 or 6, maybe 7 people living in that home … the conditions in the community in itself oftentimes provide an incubator for the spread of the disease.”

El Shabazz also criticized the response from Mayor-President Josh Guillory and his administration to the spread of COVID-19 amongst the African-American community, stating that there’s a lack of a voice from the black community in Guillory’s administration.

While KATC reported back in January that Guillory instated his former opponent Carlos Harvin as the Chief of Minority Affairs, a newly created position, the existence of the position may not be enough for community leaders like El Shabazz, the language the Mayor-President uses is telling.

“There has yet to be any real significant analysis or perspective given to the black community by someone who looks like they’re from the black community or know what they’re talking about from the black community,” El Shabazz said. “We’re grouped in and projected as ‘We’re all living in Acadiana, Acadians are going to take care of themselves’ — well, wait a minute, everybody here is not Cajun or from Acadiana.”

“Are you talking about brown and black and yellow people? The disconnect from the black community in this administration, from a realistic perspective has been magnified by the virus and challenges surrounding it.”

At the end of the day, El Shabazz is “leery” of the decision of Guillory, and begs the question:

“I wonder if the administration in Lafayette after assessing the damage that has been and is being done by the virus would’ve come to the conclusion that we should partially open up the government and get things moving again economically if the statistics in Lafayette show that 70% of white people have been dying. I don’t think that they would even contemplate opening up the government.”

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