Traditionally African American churches may face greater challenges in helping members address the coronavirus threat.
The virus is affecting the black community at a disproportionately higher rate than the general population across the nation, KSDK-TV in St. Louis reported. In Missouri, thirty-eight percent of people who have died from COVID-19 are black, although they make up only 12 percent of the state’s population.
Dr. Laurie Punch, who has been working in the COVID-19 ICU at Christian Hospital in north St. Louis County, said this doesn’t surprise her. “I have not been as mystified by the disproportionate experience of COVID-19 in the black community in the country, the state and the city,” she said.
The main factor, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, is the overall poor health of African Americans, much of it based on personal choices such as alcohol use, smoking, fast-food consumption and lack of exercise:
- African American women have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight compared to other groups in the United States. About 4 out of 5 African American women are overweight or obese.
- In 2018, non-Hispanic blacks were 1.3 times more likely to be obese as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
- In 2018, African American women were 50 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white women.
- From 2013-2016, non-Hispanic black females were 2.3 times more likely to be overweight as compared to non-Hispanic white females.
- People who are overweight are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, diabetes and LDL cholesterol – all risk factors for heart disease and stroke.1
- In 2018, African Americans were 20 percent less likely to engage in active physical activity as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
Obesity has been proven to be the key factor, regardless of age, of the ability of an individual to survive a COVID-19 diagnosis. Overweight individuals, regardless of race, just don’t fare well.
But it’s not just health, other factors like economics and medical access are also factoring in.
Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, said a number of social and economic factors contribute to these statistics. The stay-at-home orders issued by Democrat-led mayors across the nation have impacted blacks blacks because African Americans tend to live in urban areas at higher rates than suburban or rural areas. The lockdown has virtually wiped out all of the gains in employment for blacks seen as a result of the Trump economy.
“When you look at essential workers that do not have the ability to work from home, many of them are African Americans,” he said. “When you look at individuals who have low-income jobs and have to take public transportation, they do not have the opportunity to shelter-in-place in environments where they can distance themselves from family members.”
Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the number of black and Hispanic people who have the ability to work from home is lower than the number of white and Asian people who can work from home.
Even with the health risk associated with essential workers, McMillan said the biggest need his organization has been working to need centers around people who are out of work all together. Even with a record number of blacks gainfully employed with rising wages under the Trump administration, they still have higher unemployment than whites and other minorities. “African Americans already have such a high percentage of the unemployment rate compared to the general public,” McMillan said.
And while the black population in the US remains the wealthiest of all blacks in the world and is even higher than 140 nations including Russia, the rate of savings remains lower than other minorities – especially Hispanics who tend to save at much higher rates, allowing them to better weather financial hardships.
McMillan said the services they supply year-round have to be ramped up to meet the need created by hundreds of people who are without work because of COVID-19.
“It has reduced people to their basic needs,” he said. “Food, clothing, shelter, utilities, diapers, formula. People are just trying to survive. Just two months ago, these people had jobs, were working and had benefits and security. Now they have lost all that, and they are living in a state of hopelessness and economic and food insecurities so we decided to pivot.”
Punch said trying to apply an equal amount of support and resources to every community fighting COVID-19 won’t fix the problem, because the black community entered the fight at an even greater disadvantage socially, economically, geographically and health-wise.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice