Organizations try to fight COVID-19 in African American communities

Several organizations are teaming up to fight COVID-19 among African Americans, a community that’s been hit hard by the virus.

What are they asking for?

"We really need to see the data,” says NAATPN Executive Director Delmonte Jefferson.

Jefferson says now that we know African Americans in certain areas are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, a couple dozen health and civil rights organizations are coming together to try to change that.

"We’ve known we’ve had health disparities for years and it’s been very difficult to get people in leadership to address those issues,” says Houston NAACP President Dr. James Douglas.

Groups such as NAACP and the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network are teaming up, asking for race-specific data regarding COVID-19.

"So we can understand ourselves how to try and mitigate it since it’s happening in our community,” Jefferson explains.

Numbers from the Harris County Public Health Department show 23% of county COVID-19 cases are among blacks but that doesn’t include those who tested positive before race was being recorded. Even now some labs don’t collect ethnicity information.

The City Of Houston only provides race for people who have died from COVID-19, not those who are infected.

More Blacks are believed to be getting or dying from COVID-19 in certain areas due to underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Plus, "Not having the same access to healthcare. There’s also concern of whether or not there’s bias in the healthcare they’re receiving. When they complain of symptoms are they being heard?” asks Houston Ob/Gyn Dr. Carla Ortique who is the Co-Chair of the Improving Maternal Health Steering Committee.

Dr. Ortique has researched, for years, how bias in healthcare plays a role in African American pregnant women dying at a higher rate.  Now she’s on the National Bar Association COVID-19 Task Force, looking into if something similar is happening.

“Most times in the medical field it’s unconscious bias that we’re talking about.  It’s not a person who consciously says I don’t like black people so I’m going to treat them differently."

For instance, Dr. Ortique says a black woman complaining of chest pain is more likely to get medical care that has nothing to do with her heart. “Treatment for ulcer or reflux, gastrointestinal illness when truly they were having a heart attack."

Dr. Ortique says having race-specific COVID-19 data will answer everything from what treatment was offered to who was on a ventilator and for how long.

“Those are the kinds of questions we would be able to answer if we are able to stratify our data according to our demographics." 

”We also need to be involved in long term solutions to address these systemic inequalities,” adds Jefferson.

The group plans to write letters to Congress including the National Black Caucus to try to get complete data regarding COVID-19 and African Americans so they can work toward a collective solution.