COVID-19 is impacting communities of color disproportionately. Image provided by BlackPressUSA

COVID-19 is impacting communities of color disproportionately. Image provided by BlackPressUSA

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

“The coronavirus has exacerbated what has existed in a lot of our communities of color for some time,”

Karen Bankston PhD, professor of emerita of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing, told more than 150 healthcare professionals during a recent virtual conference on “Racial and Health Inequities Exposed by COVID-19.”

Karen Bankston, PhD. Photo provided

Positivity rates for Blacks in the region who have been tested for the virus has been 2.1 times the rate for Whites, the data shows.

The Collaboration Network, which includes researchers at University of Cincinnati Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center hosted the conference, featuring Andrew Beck, MD, a Cincinnati Children’s physician and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, and Karen Bankston, PhD, professor of emerita of the UC College of Nursing. They and others presented recent regional data and offered context and background about COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color in Greater Cincinnati.

Andrew Beck, MD. Photo provided

Nicole Errett, Assistant Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, said it best in a New York Times article: “These things (COVID-19 and health inequities) are so interconnected. Pre-existing social vulnerabilities only get worse following a disaster, and this is such a perfect example of that.”

The NAACP’s paper on the equity implications of COVID-19 was referred to at the conference. They are:

  1.  Increased racism ad stigmatism
  2.  Certain populations at an added risk of exposure and other impacts
  3.  Social distancing as privilege
  4.  Impact on census and voting
  5.  Increased exposure to toxic cleaning chemicals
  6.  School closure ramifications – confined spaces, more food and housing insecurities
  7.  Lack of accessibility to testing kits
  8.  Risk to civil and human rights (quarantine policies)
  9.  More restrictive immigration policies and practices
  10. Denial and misinformation worsen the outbreak

According to a study of minority communities by the Center for Clinical and Transitional Science & Training, 99 percent of those surveyed wear masks, but only 70 percent wear them at work; 97 percent are social distancing; and 17 percent had to break quarantine, usually to go to work or care for others.

The CCTST study also shows the main barriers to testing among minority communities are people who have no symptoms, or a fear of losing their job and income. For immigrants, it is fear of deportation.

Two graphs are combined here:

Results from a study of local minority refugee communities lead by CARE-Cincinnati (Civic Action for Refugee Empowerment), a team of 13 co-researchers from seven different refugee communities in the Cincinnati region. Provided
COVID-19’s current status in Ohio. Red indicates highest number of cases. Provided

“We are looking at how COVID-19 is affecting people differently, and we are seeing minorities have disproportionately been hit harder,” Beck said. “We are seeing the numbers rise, affecting number of hospital beds and access to testing.”

While initially the virus had a disproportionate impact on minorities locally, the burden of the disease recently has shifted to the suburbs, according to Cincinnati Children’s data.

The Latinx community, which makes up 3 to 4 percent of Cincinnati’s population, accounts for 15 percent of the COVID cases in the city and 20 percent of cases if the 14-county region is included.

Beck said getting the right messages about the virus and how to protect against it to audiences has been an issue.

“We are not hitting all audiences the same,” he said. “There are people with different belief systems and ways of receiving messages and data. There are data indicating disparities and racism in the healthcare system, which are magnified in situations we have now. We also are not doing as good a job in how we are addressing these disparities because many academics do not have insights into these inequities.”

The number of COVID patients in regional hospital beds is clearly upwards, as are the record levels of patients in ICU beds, with the key challenge being the prevention of deaths, Beck said. We are not at record levels regionally, but healthcare professionals say they expect too see the death rates rise.

Hamilton County’s percentage of tests that return positive for coronavirus is steadily rising. Locally, the rate of positive test returns is about 3 percent, and trending upward. In the 14 counties in Southwest Ohio, the rate of positivity is 12 percent.

Dr. Jack Kues, PhD, Associate Dean for Research Evaluation at UC College of Medicine, said his team has found that most people locally are compliant with the protocol for protecting themselves from the virus and respectful of the science involved. However, 10 percent believe masks not effective and they do not plan to take the vaccine when it is available, and these attitudes present problems.

“With COVID-19, we are dealing with unknowns, such as economic, social and cultural aspects. Then, there is the problem of things changing. So what is effective works for only a short time. In addition, we are not working in collaboration with each other,’’ he said.

Conference participants suggested several ways to address the pandemic, such as meeting people where they are to get the word out; community councils disseminating information about the virus and safety precautions; letting people know they could lose their job or even their life and would have to stay home in quarantine or be admitted to a hospital if infected by the disease; involving religious leaders as trusted leaders of the community to get the messages out; better messaging so people trust science more; and the need for coordination efforts.”

Bankston added there is a need for a holistic approach to this complex issue. “Effective, equitable responses require consideration of social, economic and environmental context,’’ she said.

The Collaboration Network is a program of the Center for Clinical & Translational Science and Training, run jointly by UC and Cincinnati Children’s.

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