INDIANAPOLIS — Public health professionals are examining the systemic issues that are being highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the CDC, when compared to their white counterparts, African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19, nearly 4 times as likely to be hospitalized as a result, and almost three times more likely to die from it.
“What does it mean when you want to have access to primary care physicians or even to get to them and you can’t?" asked Rory James, Indiana University office of student diversity and inclusion director.
Diversity and public health experts are discussing institutional and systemic inequities they say have put the Black community at higher risk of COVID-19.
“There’s not as much space to actually be six feet apart,” said Dr. Antonio Williams, IU associate public health professor. “A lot of these people are living in apartment buildings or using public transit to get back-and-forth to their places of employment.”
“Access to health providers and health coverage,” James said. “Of course not all of us African-Americans lack insurance. We definitely have to talk about people who may have insurance but are under-insured.”
Williams is highlighting the increased risk of exposure many in the Black community face with jobs as frontline workers, either in grocery stores, restaurants, or public transit.
“They’re more at risk because they’re exposed more, but you also have those underlying chronic conditions, non-communicable diseases, that we have in the African-American community: asthma, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes," Williams said. “And all these issues really exacerbate the virus itself.”
“Recognizing that we all don’t start at the same place and so we’ve got to acknowledge that and we’ve got to make adjustments for those and balances that exist,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, ACE’s president and chief science officer.
They suggest we all take part in addressing inequity and help fill the gap when it comes to health disparities in improving the quality of life for our Black community.
“A lot of African-Americans are in communities without a lot of green space or not walkable communities, don’t have a proper bike, don’t have parks and recreation,” Williams said. “And we also know they’re in food deserts. So I challenge our professions to educate policymakers and key stakeholders, maybe pastors, or principals to start to address the reasons why people are physically inactive in these areas.”
“Is there a way that we can incorporate physical activity or can fitness instructors work with places of worship to make sure that we can say 'Hey you come here to praise or to worship' but also maybe on a Saturday maybe we can do some demonstration of physical activity so that we can have a broader reach and meet the community where they are?” James asked.