It wasn’t that long ago that as the coronavirus touched down in the United States, quickly spreading to thousands of people across all 50 states, that some on social media joked about Black people being unable to get it. Blame it on people’s constant desire to make light of things online, or just an attempt to remain optimistic, but that theory was swiftly debunked. Not only have we been getting it, but we have been disproportionately impacted by it, our people contracting and dying from it at much higher rates than many in the general population. We’ve heard that it is partly because of the fact that our community is at a greater risk to have the pre-existing conditions known to increase the severity of coronavirus cases. There has also been talk about our living conditions. And then there is the lack of accessibility to good healthcare for many.
“Honestly, all three factors play a huge role in creating a perfect storm that leads to Black communities being disproportionately affected,” said Dr. Ashley Denmark of the St. Louis-based BJC Medical Group over e-mail. “We know coronavirus will infect anyone – Black, White, Hispanic; this virus does not discriminate. However, it is the discrimination that is rooted in our society that leads to the differences in how this virus will impact Black America.”
She notes that it is true that our higher incidences of conditions like diabetes, asthma, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and obesity cause us to be at a higher risk to die from the virus. However, she also pointed out that many of us are the ones doing the “essential” jobs that require us to still be out and exposed in order to feed our families when most are indoors heeding stay-at-home orders.
“These conditions are more prevalent amongst Black Americans as they are more vulnerable to residing in communities that are under-resourced with broken educational systems, discriminatory housing policies, and hiring practices that ultimately result in lack of opportunity for upward mobility,” she said. “The result of these social determinants has led Black America to make up the majority of the essential workforce, which does not have the benefit to work from home during this pandemic. As a result, Black Americans are more vulnerable to contracting the virus and, in turn, bring it back to their community to spread, which is an at-risk population.”
Dr. Denmark believes this is a wake-up call for us to do a better job at being in charge of our health. The pre-existing conditions that plague us are “100 percent reversible,” and can be turned around by developing a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise. Though we can’t, on our own, also fix bias in the medical systems and our ability to obtain quality healthcare, aside from getting more people of color into medical schools and into the workforce, we can start changing our situation by prioritizing our health.
“Start trying to create a healthy life that is compatible with your lifestyle and income,” she said. “Many of my patients assume a healthy lifestyle means gym memberships or pricey organic food. Wrong. To create and maintain a healthy lifestyle, the key is to make a plan that you can sustain.”
From YouTube workouts to accessing free exercise programs through the American Heart Association, this is the perfect time to get moving. It’s also recommended that you gradually incorporate more veggies into your meals to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs, as opposed to too much sugar, too much salt, and other things that should be consumed in moderation to avoid chronic conditions. And if you have such ailments, Dr. Denmark says you should reach out to your primary care physician to ensure that your condition, whether it be high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or more, is under control. However you go about changing your lifestyle, the best move is to “be proactive instead of reactive.”
The worst move right now? Rushing back out when there’s no vaccine for the coronavirus or even enough adequate testing. As of today, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has authorized the re-opening of fitness centers, salons, barbershops, massage therapy businesses, tattoo parlors, nail salons, bowling alleys and more. By Monday, dine-in options for restaurants and the opening of theaters will be authorized. He claims there is “favorable data” to encourage such a decision. However, health experts like Dr. Denmark are vehemently against such moves, which she says show more concern for economic bottom line than the safety of the American people.
“We don’t have enough protective gear for healthcare workers, and they are dying. We don’t have enough tests, nor vaccine or definitive treatment for this virus, and Americans are still dying,” she said. “It’s disheartening to see people are being given a false sense of safety by relaxing social distancing regulations. Opening up businesses will only lead to more heartache and death for our country, especially in marginalized minority communities, as we are not prepared to handle potential surges that will come from loosening social distancing regulations.”
With the death toll in this country surging past 50,000 this week and asymptomatic carriers accounting for a large percentage of the virus spread according to Dr. Denmark, we are nowhere near the free and clear yet. We need to stay indoors as much as possible, try and stay as healthy as we can to build up our immune systems, and trust more than our guts to when making decisions during this chaotic time; that goes for our leaders as well.
“We must listen to the experts. We must listen to science,” Dr. Denmark said. “This season will be tough for us all, but we must stand united and work together so we can emerge from this crisis stronger and more prepared to make coronavirus a thing of the past.”