COVID-19 Reveals Racial Inequalities Still Exist in Healthcare
February is Black History Month, and on one hand it’s a time to celebrate Black history, culture, and heritage, but it’s also a good time to look at issues that still trouble the Black community.
One matter that has been brought up numerous times since the COVID-19 outbreak landed in the U.S. is how the coronavirus disproportionately affects Black people. That includes Blacks dying from COVID or COVID complications at nearly three times the rate whites are.
There are a number of reasons.
African-Americans are in a position to be more exposed to COVID. Many have jobs that don’t allow them to work from home. They also tend to work at places that put them more in contact with the public. Paid sick leave is not so readily available — and for many Blacks, when they get COVID or are exposed to it, it’s a strain on the finances to stay home and quarantine for a couple of weeks.
Fewer Blacks have health insurance. For 2018, 11.5 percent of Black adults had zero health insurance, compared to 7.5 percent of whites. Blacks also are more likely to seek care from a primary care doctor or even at the emergency room, as opposed to going to a specialist. That results in less specific, and more generalized care. It’s care, at least, but it’s also fertile ground for potential health issues getting overlooked.
It’s perhaps most evident among Blacks having more chronic health issues like hypertension or diabetes. (That does put people — of any race — at a greater risk of COVID complications.)
The Black community doesn’t get treatment for mental health issues like depression or anxiety on par with the white community. Only one-third of Black adults who need mental health care actually get it. (Racism — both contemporary and historical — leaves a lingering trauma that does not help mental health.) After George Floyd’s death in May 2020, the National Alliance on Mental Illness declared racism a public health crisis. That was in reaction to Floyd’s killing (among many others) as well as a statement on generations of oppression and inequality.
Further complicating matters is COVID and vaccines. There’s a mega push to get as many Americans as possible vaccinated against the coronavirus, but there is mistrust that lingers in the Black community. (The Tuskegee Study, where hundreds of Black men were “treated” for syphilis and other ailments with placebos like aspirin and vitamins, is just one example of being treated as less than human by authority figures.) One woman told a news crew that she would not bare her arm for a vaccine unless it was mandated.
Others would like to be inoculated, but face roadblocks.
Primary sites for vaccinations are hospitals and pharmacies. Typically, the more minorities an area has, the fewer pharmacies there are. Advocates would like to see public health campaigns that truly reach everyone, mobile units bringing the vaccines to the people, and a more streamlined process that makes it easier for folks to get an appointment for a shot. Many health systems require a fair amount of online steps to sign up for vaccinations, which can serve as a roadblock since not everyone has the technology or the proficiency to go that route.
President Biden has spoken of leveling the playing field in terms of pandemic response, and how COVID has underscored many inequalities in the system. Making such a simple yet vital and life-saving option equally available to all could do a lot of good, as could culturally competent care.
cdc.gov – COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity
alumni.berkeley.edu – COVID-19 Has Hit African Americans the Hardest. Here’s Why.
kff.org – Changes in Health Coverage by Race and Ethnicity Since the ACA, 2010-2018
nami.org – Black/African American
nami.org – NAMI”s Statement on Recent Racist Incidents and Mental Health Resources for African Americans
history.com – Tuskegee Experiment: The Infamous Syphilis Study
wmcactionnews5.com – ‘I’m Not Getting It Unless It’s Mandated’: Why Many African Americans Distrust the COVID-19 Vaccine
news.yahoo.com – Why Black Americans Aren’t Being Vaccinated at the Same Rate as Whites
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Mental Health Issues Facing the Black Community