COVID-19 has demonstrated disproportionate effects on African Americans due to high incidence of chronic health conditions. Especially diabetes, heart disease, severe obesity and asthma which has been observed to result in more complications and higher death rates in persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus known as COVID-19.
Factors in play
African Americans have historically experienced decreased access to health care. Additional contributing factors leading to the heavy toll seen in African Americans communities include inability to work from home and shelter in place, housing in small multigenerational homes which limits the ability to practice social distancing and self-quarantine and if symptomatic, reliance on public transportation.
Also, inadequate funds to purchase sufficient food, hand sanitizers, masks, and thermometers, and lack of health insurance that delays access to medical care.
African Americans have a higher percentage of jobs in the service areas and higher likelihood of more public contact that increases risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Pressing actions needed
Governing officials in the Florida area must address the needs of the vulnerable populations in the area. Heightened attention and efforts are required if we are to be successful in our efforts to control the pandemic in our area.
We suggest that the following actions should be implemented immediately:
Broadened access to testing that includes lowering the age to 50 with symptoms, and with or without contact history.
Increase the number of testing sites in African American neighborhoods. Specifically, we strongly recommend point of care testing (15-minute or less turnaround time on results) to ensure immediate response to contain spread among family members and community
Update testing guidelines to include symptomatic individuals.
Mobile Testing Unit: a fully equipped, outdoor mobile unit with the ability to accept walk up patients and testing can be done outside. The unit can be deployed to different communities every day and local physicians can make references.
More robust data collection, including race: Timely, accurate data on the number of people tested with their results will allow us to alert vulnerable citizens, contain and prevent the infection spread.
Communicate and educate all African Americans on COVID-19 infection risk, treatment and end of life preparation, using media outlets and personalities servicing African American communities (Haitian and English-speaking Caribbean radio, newspapers, radio and TV programs consumed by African Americans, billboards and social media). Funding should be allocated to ensure prime time programming. In addition, limited access to internet should be considered in the design of communication strategies.
Engage and fund community organizations such as the local Urban League affiliates, National Medical Association local medical societies, local NAACP branches, Black Nurses Association, local faith-based entities, and other NGO’s to help facilitate community education on COVID-19.
Now is the time
It has become clear that the African American communities around the country have experienced disproportionate mortality rates during this pandemic.
Now is the time for Florida to recognize the vulnerability of this population and initiate the needed interventions to prevent the tragedies seen in the African American communities nationally from occurring in our area.
Dr. Stephanie Talton-Williamson is president of the Bay Area Medical Association. Dr. Barbara Nabrit-Stephens is Region 3 trustee of the National Medical Association.