April 8, 2020

Sanjay Gupta looked at the risk factor of being a black American during the pandemic.

"Just how big a risk factor is it? Turns out pretty big. Why is that? I decided to find out myself," he said.

"Dr. Kamara Jones is -- I was struck, Dr. Jones, we're both doctors and as I was hearing the story, it sounded just all of a tragically familiar. Is this a familiar story?"

"What we see is familiar because the condition of our lives hasn't changed. What's happening is that we are carrying the burden of these limited opportunities in our body, the diabetes, the heart disease, the hypertension, even in terms of immune compromised and all of that," Jones said.

"Already, we're hearing from some officials that blacks have been disproportionately hit," Gupta said.

"In Michigan, where you grew up, 14% of the population is black, though they make up 41% of coronavirus deaths. In Illinois, 15% identify as African American, but they make up 42% of deaths. Louisiana's population is 32% black, which accounts for about 70% of coronavirus deaths. But here's the problem, according to Dr. Jones. As inadequate as testing had been for the country, the problem is even worse for African Americans."

"Our whole national testing strategy has started out as a clinical strategy, not a public health strategy. That, of course, has disadvantaged the whole nation in terms of knowing who has contracted. I'm told also that it has been harder for many people of color to get the test just because of where testing stations have been located."

"While blacks are less likely to be tested, less likely to be treated, they are more likely to be on the front lines. Essential workers. Upon whom we all depend."

"We're out here as public workers doing our jobs, trying to make an honest living to take care of our families."

"Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove posted this online on March 21st."

"It is not as easy for them to shelter in place. and it's not as easy because they might have front facing jobs like home health aides or bus drivers or working at Amazon and the like."

For you to get on the bus and staying on the bus, and cough several times without covering up your mouth and you know that we're in the middle of a pandemic, that lets me know that some folks don't care.

"Four days later, Hargrove, who is 50 years old, became ill. He died last Wednesday. It's still unclear how he got COVID-19. John and Alisyn, I think there's a couple of important things that are sort of more immediate. First of all, we need to collect the data. Data is actually hard to come by," Gupta said.

First of all, there's been inadequate testing as everybody knows. Some of the results, the data was not broken down by demographics. Something we should continue to insist on. Also, there may be a tragic sort of story of the rationing of care because there's not enough of some of these resources we've been talking about. I think it's really important to be sure that the structural inequalities don't manifest, aren't affected by that rationing of care as well."

Here in Philadelphia, in the early weeks, testing was done by local health care systems -- but you had to have a referral from a primary care doctor who works in that particular system, or get screened via phone call. The testing sites were scattered around the city, and only open a few hours a day due to the limited supply of tests.

We learned yesterday that one of the biggest risk factors in dying of coronavirus is air pollution -- and of course, the biggest polluting industries are invariably clustered in the poorest sections of the city. (Can you say "environmental racism"?)

And finally, as Dr. Jones pointed out, black Americans are on the front lines. They're driving buses, delivering food, working in those hospitals that are the largest employers in my city.

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