At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can clearly recall stating to my colleagues “COVID-19 does not discriminate.” Within the second week of March I was eating my words. As I write on this beautiful Saturday morning in Orlando, Florida, Blacks and Hispanics are dying at an alarming rate in NYC, Detroit, Louisiana, Milwaukee and Chicago. My colleagues and leaders have one answer for the cause of death, “they have chronic medical conditions such as Asthma, Diabetes, Hypertension, Obesity and Coronary Artery Disease(CAD).”
COVID-19 did not start the healthcare disparities in America but what it has done is shed a light to our healthcare system. A healthcare system that is not adequate in how it provides care for our Black and Hispanic communities, a system that does not take account the environmental impact and the institutional neglect of our communities.
There is a mistrust of the healthcare system combined with misinformation within our communities and allows for a perfect storm within a pandemic. Some insight about the misinformation that was floating in the wake of COVID-19 begins in the community where I grew up Queens Village, NY. One afternoon, I received a call from my brother Marc; he starts off with “Greg the word on the street is that Blacks, Hispanics and Caribbean folks can’t get COVID-19 because of our genetic make up and vaccines we were given as a child back in Haiti.” Within a split second I went through a whirlwind of emotions from frozen in time to anger and lastly panic mode. I had to reel in all of these emotions so I could effectively give him the right information, but more importantly meet this well educated man at the level where he was so I could have a positive impact on him. I made a conscious effort to be aware of the tone of my voice at all times, remained calm while stressing the urgency of the situation because I needed him to go back and relay this message to his neighbors and friends. I replied, “No Marc we will have more deaths from COVID-19 because Blacks and Hispanics live in communities with less hospitals, higher density population in housing, economic disadvantage and are at higher risks of Asthma, CAD, Hypertension, Diabetes and Obesity that are not under control. Yes, one of the medicine we prescribe to this higher risk population helps protect their heart and kidneys, but will increase the severity of COVID-19 and their likelihood of dying from COVID-19. Marc, this is what I need you tell your friends who are still going to the barber shops to socialize and who are still visiting each other at their homes.”
Indeed, our leaders and public health officials have done well in conveying the message of social distancing. How does one social distance from each other when you live in a building in the projects with one small elevator and where the supermarkets are smaller which makes it difficult to perform social distancing? The states are issuing Stay-At-Home orders and only essential workers should go to work to limit person-to-person transmission. Without a doubt, COVID19 seems to be shedding its light on the essential workers that no one seems to recall, such as our bus and truck drivers, postal workers, delivery services, and grocery workers. During this pandemic the environmental services who clean the exam and hospital rooms during and after a COVID-19 patient visit are essential. These essential workers can’t stay home because they live from pay check to pay check and have to feed their families. They are the Blacks and Hispanics in your communities, hence the increase of exposure for our communities.
Unquestionably, COVID-19 has exposed a lot within our country; from our Winter Course platform how can we Be present in a time that calls for courage and grace for the Blacks and Hispanic patients that we care for within our communities?
“On December 19, no-one was immune to COVID-19. If there was equal opportunity and equal distribution of risk; no matter how you slice or dice the population, no one population would have more of it or die from COVID-19.” Camara Jones MD, MPH, PHD Epidemiologis