Panel explores pandemic's impact on people of color
Roberta and James Wilburn hosted a virtual "Courageous Conversation" Memorial Day weekend, drawing more than 30 to a conversation on "The Impact of COVID-19 on Black and Hispanic Communities."
Vivianne Griffiths, an adult nurse practitioner from Louisville, Ky., and Vicki Hines Martin, a psychiatric nursing professor and assistant dean at the University of Louisville, joined Walter Kendricks, a member of the Washington Commission on African American Affairs and pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Spokane, along with Roberta and James, co-founders of Wilburn and Associates.
Panelists told of the pandemic's disproportionate impact on communities of color, and looked at health and safety issues that mean more risk in their communities.
Vivianne quoted journalist Zeeshan Aleem, who said "Coronavirus isn't an equalizer but a magnifier of inequality." Vivianne also quoted Center for Disease Control (CDC) data: Blacks are 30 percent of COVID-19 patients, but 14 percent of the U.S. population. They are six percent of Wisconsin's population but are 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths there. They are 33 percent of Los Angeles' population but 57 percent of deaths.
The reason for racial disparities in health care for minority populations is that African Americans with co-morbidities have an increased risk for death from coronavirus. For example, those with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, vitamin D deficiency and other diseases are more at risk, as are older people, she said.
Vicki said that "the history of health disparities among ethnic groups has more influence on the risk than individual behaviors."
She spoke about "social determinants of health," or conditions in which "people are born, grow, live, work and age."
Those factors include economic stability in terms of employment, income and debt; the neighborhood and physical environment in terms of housing, transportation, safety, parks and zip code; education in terms of literacy, early childhood education, vocational training and higher education; food in terms of hunger and access; community and social context in terms of social integration, community engagement and discrimination, and the health system and care in terms of quality, insurance coverage, provider availability and provider linguistic and cultural awareness.
In the pandemic, more minorities are in essential services but earn lower income and cannot work from home, putting them more at risk, Vicki said, so they struggle to meet household needs, rely on public transportation and lack access to quality health care.
Those factors make them more vulnerable, according to the CDC vulnerability index which identifies stresses and resilience that have impact on health outcomes.
Sheltering in place does not help for people living on the streets, in prisons or in long-term care facilities, she said.
Vivianne then suggested that African-American and Hispanic people can help to mitigate the rate of infections by reporting symptoms early to ensure access to care, by using protocols for cleanliness like 20-second handwashing, by testing those without symptoms, by contact tracing for those testing positive and by social distancing.
Walter said the Spokane Ministers Fellowship received a $15,000 Innovia grant, which he, as its president, has shared for African American pastors to give to members in need, because they know the needs.
"The crisis and virus show the inequities of the systems and systemic racism," he said.
"From the time we were in slavery through after we were freed, the country has been built on our sweat and labor, but since slaves were freed in 1863, we had no health care or social safety net.
"I don't want to return to what was normal in January. The capitalistic economic system does not support us. We need something better," he said.
"Because of the high rates of poverty and incarceration, there are more cases, and many are not even counted," Walter said, urging efforts to awaken people to deal with systemic inequities.
Walter added that many people of color are on the front lines, working in grocery stores and as essential workers tending to the needs of other people.
He mentioned recent articles that have stirred his thinking about being in a "slaveholders' republic," about how much a human life is worth, about how many will die to reopen the economy and about living in a failed state.
"With COVID-19, we need to ask who and what we are. I do not want to go back to the normal we had, because everyone should have health care and enough food. As the richest country, we can do better," he said.
Walter urges the state commissions on African-American and on Hispanic affairs to work together.
"There is strength in numbers. We are better together than when we stand alone," he said. "We need to be in love with justice."
He knows finding funding may be hard with the state losing funds, but people of color need to work together so their voices are heard.
"We have bailed out corporations to the tune of billions of dollars. It's time to assist American citizens," Walter said. "There should be funds to help people."
He called for "sticking together, calling an elder neighbor, sharing what we have and caring for one another."
James considered the statistics, citing that more than 20,000 of the nearly 100,000 deaths from the pandemic are African Americans.
"How much is a life worth? When we open the country, some will die. That's the price of the economy," he said. "We need to inform our community that this is killing us. Going back to work for many is a death sentence, and people of color are often the ones on the front line."
James reviewed history of how "our ancestors died to make change."He spoke of the high mortality on the Navajo reservation, one of the highest mortality rates in the world. He spoke of the dilemma of African Americans who are unemployed and must go back to work.
Vivianne suggested that people have their doctors write letters to employers about their medical conditions that put them at risk, so they can continue to receive unemployment.
Roberta added that "it's time to come together and think of the bigger picture."
She hoped the conversation makes participants more informed so they are better able speak to the issues.
For information, call 542-7636, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit wilburnassociates.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree,June, 2020