The impact of COVID-19 in the Black Community: Let’s not put our health at risk

J.C. Watts, founder and chairman of J.C. Watts Companies | 7/10/2020, 12:32 p.m.
Washington, D.C., city attorney George Valentine was Black, brilliant, and fit. But after contracting COVID-19, he became so weak, he ...

Washington, D.C., city attorney George Valentine was Black, brilliant, and fit. But after contracting COVID-19, he became so weak, he had trouble moving and even speaking. When it got to the point where he could barely breathe, George called an ambulance and waited on the steps of his house for it to arrive. Every second he waited must have seemed like an eternity. Two days later, George died. He was 66 and had suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure before getting sick with the coronavirus.

New research seems to confirm that, across the nation, the coronavirus has disproportionately impacted Black people, with death rates more than twice as high as that for any other race. Why is this happening-and can we do anything about it?

There are several explanations for the disparity, and most have to do how we live, where we work, and our underlying health conditions. There are also factors that are within our immediate control that we can all do right now to protect ourselves, but that many in our community are failing to do.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite several possible reasons that Black Americans are more affected. One is that many of us live in more highly populated areas where it’s more difficult to practice physical distancing from one another. Many of us also live in multi-generational households where it’s easier for younger family members to spread the virus to more vulnerable elderly members. This is especially true for lower-income households with smaller living spaces.

Another reason is that a large percentage of African Americans hold frontline service industry jobs as food servers, cleaners, and personal-care providers, and in fields such as nursing that are all considered essential during the pandemic, and they bravely continue to go to work each day.

One other big factor is that, sadly, our people also tend to have more underlying medical conditions-like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension-that make us more vulnerable.

While many of these factors are difficult to change in the near term, we can do some things immediately to reduce our risks. In my own community in Oklahoma, I’ve witnessed many Black folks not wearing masks or practicing any degree of physical distancing in public. A lot of people just plain aren’t following recommendations to keep themselves and their families safe.

Let’s be real for a minute. Some of this stems from past experiences with government that make people skeptical about what they’re hearing from public officials. For some, it’s the bitter memories of government-enforced segregation and other racist policies. For others, it’s the fact the young Black men have more negative encounters with the police, and people don’t want to wear masks and give anyone an excuse for mistaking them for criminals. For others, it’s that politicians have made promises to us for decades and have failed to make good. Why trust them now?

Despite all this, please don’t put your health at risk. We have to do all we can to protect our communities and our loved ones from being exposed to infection.