Initially, there was this foolish idea that Black folks couldn’t get the coronavirus. The real questions should’ve been not only why aren’t we seen as a particularly vulnerable population, but what happens when we get it?
Data suggests that Black Indianapolis is more vulnerable to health issues in general.
We already know our life expectancies are different.
According to a 2015 Indiana University Richard Fairbanks School of Public Health study, most Black neighborhoods have an average life expectancy of 69.4 years, which is more similar to Iraq (70 years) than the average life expectancy of 78.8 years for the U.S.
Marion County overall had a life expectancy of 76.4 years, while Hamilton County enjoyed an average life expectancy of 82 years in the same study.
The study’s authors suggested that roughly 75% of population health factors are connected to social determinants of health, like “… quality childcare and quality education, safe and affordable housing, a secure job with decent pay, air and soil free of toxic pollutants, and a place to play, shop, or socialize with neighbors without fear of crime and discrimination is extremely difficult in some communities.”
They go on to note, “All of these differences in opportunity contribute to variations in the number of years certain populations can expect to live.”
Even after Obamacare, 12% of Blacks do not have health insurance, compared to 8% of whites. (Nearly 27% of the Latinx community does not have health insurance).
We also know that according to the IU Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy, which I am affiliated with, 48% of Black Indianapolis live in majority Black neighborhoods.
Since roughly a third of the Black community lives in food deserts, we also know that our community is susceptible to obesity, diabetes and other underlying conditions.
The academic literature on Black-white disparities on health outcomes is also substantial.
Other communities such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina have already asked the questions and made the observation based on data. As of March 30, the Black community, which represents roughly 33% of the community there, accounted for 43% of the positive cases for coronavirus.
In other cities such as Milwaukee, where the first eight people to die were Black, segregation and COVID-19 have proven to be a deadly combination.
Milwaukee is the most segregated city in America based on the most recent American Community Survey data; Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson was 25th — making us more segregated than New Orleans, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, North Carolina-South Carolina.
But more than segregation, spreading of the coronavirus can be a result of Black people just deciding to be together in large numbers.
In Albany, Georgia, 90% of the people who have died from the coronavirus were Black. Public health officials believe the February 29 funeral of a janitor was a “super spreading event.”
Surgeon General Jerome Adams suggested Indianapolis is an emerging hotspot for COVID-19.
Why anyone thought COVID-19 didn’t present a serious threat to the Black community seems ridiculous.
By now, we all should know that Black folks can get the coronavirus. The next question is what happens when we get it?
In an environment where disparities and their impacts are likely to be exacerbated, the debate for the Black community can’t be whether or not Black people can get COVID-19, but rather, when we experience significant symptoms, will we have access to tests?
If we test positive, will we receive the treatment we need? And once we are treated, what will be the outcomes? Will we be sicker because of the propensity of having additional underlying conditions that complicate treatment? Will there be disparities in morbidity?
And how are our health care providers leveraging the factors I outlined and data they no doubt collect to combat racial disparities in outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The equity discussion health systems leaders should also be having now may literally be a matter of life and death.
What I’m hearing…
There is universal and well-deserved respect for frontline service providers at hospitals, including doctors, nurses and administrators, law enforcement officers and workers at places such as grocery stores for their tireless efforts to keep us safe and continuing to serve in dangerous conditions.
Folks are risking their health and possibly their lives. We owe them everything — including staying home and washing our hands.
From the northwest area to Brightwood to the far east side, grassroots leaders have demonstrated their capacity to rise to the occasion to take care of the community.
From developing food delivery and drop-off sites to wellness checks to neighborhood watch systems, grassroots leaders and pastors are protecting, feeding and sustaining the village. Their leadership has been essential for the Black community.
Finally, I get after Marion County superintendents for the racial achievement gap — and those concerns still remain — but we all need to acknowledge that they stepped forward to make sure kids who needed it were fed. Pushing school district leaders on an issue should not be misconstrued as an accusation that they don’t care about kids.
The superintendents who stepped up big are to be commended for their service to the community.
See ya next week…
Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.