COVID-19 disproportionately affects African American communities

April 23, 2020

By: Eric S. Quivers
M.D. Care Wisconsin’s Senior Medical Director in Dane County

Eric S. Quivers, M.D.

Across the nation, African American communities have experienced a far worse infection rate and rate of death from COVID-19 infections. For instance, African Americans account for 28 percent of the population in Milwaukee County but 71 percent of the deaths. There are many reasons for this discrepancy but there is knowledge that we have that will help us keep ourselves and our families safe.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the African American communities were predictable. It is in the African American and other minority communities that health disparities are the most prominent. The members of these communities have high rates of pre-existing conditions that have been identified as risk factors for a severe COVID-19 illness. The conditions include diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema and asthma. Another factor is the access to health care. Response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the minority community was complicated by misinformation and not practicing social distancing as stringently as possible. In the beginning of the outbreak, it was reported that African Americans and people of color were not likely to be infected with the virus. This is very false. Other challenges faced by the African American community include working in jobs that are deemed essential and greater use of public transportation which results in exposure to more potential infectious situations.

What can we do? There are many things that we can do to protect ourselves and our families. First, as much as possible stay at least 6 feet away from others- social distancing. This has proven to be most effective. Second, wear a cloth mask when you are likely to be in crowded public places. This includes grocery stores, public transportation, and other places where a crowd might gather that you may need to go. By wearing a mask, it greatly reduces the risk to others by blocking the aerosolized droplets produced by talking and breathing near a person’s mouth and nose. There are many ways to make facial coverings and they can be found at the Surgeon General’s webpage or the CDC’s.

Other good practices include; coughing or sneezing into the bend of an elbow or into a tissue, washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after touching surfaces that might be contaminated, and wiping down surfaces with a household disinfectant that might be have touched by newly delivered packages. Taking care of our elderly family members is also complicated. Persons of all ages are at risk for the infection, but individuals at advanced ages are more likely to have a worse outcome. You can still help your older family members with food or medication deliveries by leaving those items at their door if they are in their own homes. If they are living with you, practicing social distancing in public will reduce the possibility of bringing the virus into the home.

If you are exposed to someone who is ill with COVID-19 virus, self-quarantine for 14 days. This will provide time to determine if you have become infected. You should isolate and monitor yourself for fever, cold like symptoms, difficulty breathing, and feeling very tired. These are common symptoms associated with a COVID-19 viral infection. Others include headaches, diarrhea, and the loss of your sense of smell and taste. Consult your doctor or get to an emergency room for help if your symptoms worsen.

Remember, we can protect ourselves, our families and our community during this COVID-19 pandemic by follow these simple guidelines. We are in this together, Milwaukee!