While Shelter-in-place guidelines have been lifted in Georgia by Gov. Brian Kemp, novel coronavirus cases continue to increase.

At current, there are more than 34,000 reported COVID-19 cases and almost 1500 deaths in the state of Georgia. Reportedly, Georgians now have a 40 percent chance of contracting the disease with the Georgia economy open. 

Yet, African-Americans in Georgia make up 80 percent of the coronavirus cases.

Why are the numbers of coronavirus so high in the Black community? Are people continuing to practice social distancing and following safety guidelines? 

Two Metro Atlanta physicians shared some insight into why they think African-Americans are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus over their white counterparts and affluent communities.

Dr. Zandraetta Tims-Cook, a provider at the AIDS Healthcare Foundations’ Atlanta Midtown Healthcare Center and an expert in infectious diseases, said a lot has surfaced regarding health disparities since the coronavirus pandemic began to spread nationwide. 

Black people are contracting the disease at a higher rate because they are more at-risk and more vulnerable than other communities, she proposed. She also suggested Black people tend to have occupations that do not allow them the privilege to stay home and not work. 

“Blacks have jobs that typically put them in close proximity to the public which puts them at a higher risk of contracting the disease,” she said. “Blacks live a different experience and tend to work in environments that increase their risk of contracting the coronavirus. It should be called having ‘COVID-19 while Black.’” 

“Testing is not always accessible to people,” she added. “We are partnering with HIV organizations and using the same tests for COVID-19 patients.”

Tims-Cook’s colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Hines recently wrote an op-ed indicating why he thinks blacks are at a higher risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus. 

Tims-Cook and Hines are both a part of the WellStar Physicians Group. Hines has extensive research interests and has been published in the field of papillomaviruses, cervical cancer vaccines, clinical cancer trials, and disparities in healthcare. He also has provided cancer health education to at-risk groups. 

Hines’s op-ed addressed the possibility that social determinants of health that may contribute to underlying medical conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and asthma in the black community, which puts blacks at a higher risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. 

The opinion piece also included short-term and long-term actions that he feels people can use to help defer the risks of contracting the virus. 

“If you’ll notice, deaths among African-Americans are up in all of the major cities, including Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City,” Hines wrote. “The resources to test people and the capacity to test people is limited.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered just north of downtown Atlanta, social determinants include factors like health and healthcare, income and wealth, education, housing, neighborhood environments (food deserts, lack of parks, sidewalks, green space), unemployment, and underemployment, race, ability, ethnicity, and gender. 

Hines indicated in his opinion piece that these social determinants cause medical conditions that have the potential to impact COVID-19 infection rates, severity, recovery, and survival in blacks.

Tims-Cook said the coronavirus does not differ in terms of ethnicity and there is no different or varying presentation among African-Americans and other groups of the coronavirus. She said coronavirus symptoms include flu-like symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

“Blacks don’t have the best access to health. We have known about health inequity, but have not talked about it,” Hines said. “COVID-19 has put it in front of everyone and people are acknowledging it and talking about it.”

Hines’s suggestions for short-term actions included addressing the shelter-in-place guidelines, social distancing, and staying fit. He indicated in the op-ed that Wellstar Health System and its community partners, throughout metro Atlanta and Georgia are ready to provide assistance to at-risk communities for housing needs. 

Those partners in Georgia include both the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and Legal Aid Society, who provide free legal advice and assistance to residents at risk for eviction. 

Hines also commended the work of additional organizations, including Georgia Equality, which provides safe shelter options, especially for women and children; Partners in Home connects Georgians with information about temporary housing and emergency shelter; also, Mercy Care offers support that includes medical, employment, and housing assistance.

“We have partnered with Hosea Helps and are deploying safety kits,” Hines said. “We are a wonderful partnership of organizations that have the trust factor in these communities and we’re are educating people, telling them to mask up, wash up, and practice social distancing.”

His short-term actions also included how to practice social distancing at work and home, including frequent hand-washing with soap and water; avoiding face touching; frequent disinfection of all surfaces, including shoes and grocery items; isolating anyone with symptoms or exposure; and seeking medical attention if someone becomes sick.

Additionally, staying healthy and fit was also a part of Hines’s short-term actions. 

Open Hand, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Feeding the Valley, and the Atlanta Regional Commission are additional WellStar Health System are community partners that he says offer food and nutrition resources and meal delivery. 

Hines also advised people on exercising during the pandemic, as he feels obesity is one of the key factors leading to death for COVID-19 patients. 

“Do jumping jacks in your living room or take a walk around the block,” he suggested. “People should practice regular deep breathing exercises to enhance the ability to avoid complications and survive the disease.”

Hines’s suggestions for long-term actions included coordinating and putting in place actions that help to achieve health equity.

“Right now we are in the relief and recovery phase, where people are coming together, medical professionals, religious organizations, philanthropic organizations,” Hines said. “The goal is to get to a phase of change and impact, getting community leaders, the government, private companies, and even insurance companies to help make the necessary changes to help vulnerable and at-risk communities.

“Educating our community is important,” Hines added. “We have to get community leaders, politicians, the community to help under-resourced communities that are Black and brown.”

Erica Harris, right, and her daughter Jordan, wear their protective masks as they walk back home after getting lunch and homework from the child’s school. As the coronavirus tightened its grip across the country, it has cut a particularly devastating swath through an already vulnerable population, black Americans. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo)
Erica Harris, right, and her daughter Jordan, wear their protective masks as they walk back home after getting lunch and homework from the child’s school. As the coronavirus tightened its grip across the country, it has cut a particularly devastating swath through an already vulnerable population, black Americans. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo)

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