With all that’s going on in the world with COVID-19, it’s natural to focus on our own immediate circles of loved ones. Kids are out of school, spouses are working from home or not working at all. Parents or grandparents are isolated and we’re not able to visit them. Fear and anxiety are common right now, and rightfully so. According to the CDC, the US has seen nearly 350,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 10,000 deaths. 1 This pandemic will indeed change the world as we know it. April is Minority Health Month. It’s a perfect time to address an imminent concern for minority populations.
While we are all potentially susceptible to this deadly virus, it’s important to realize that those at higher risk are likely individuals with health disparities and chronic illnesses to begin with. The CDC notes that adults over the age of 60, those with chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease and individuals with autoimmune diseases such as lupus or MS are at higher risk for COVID-19.1
According to the CDC, African Americans are dealing with chronic diseases that typically impact older white adult Americans, at a younger age. Risk factors like chest pain or high blood pressure or a diagnosis of diabetes are either silent or not taken care of at earlier ages. Economic, cultural and social issues such as not having access to a physician due to cost, or distrust of the medical establishment are more common among African Americans. 2 African Americans are the second largest minority population followed by the Hispanic population. 3
Another at risk population for COVID-19 is pregnant women. Latina teens and African American teens have the highest birth rates compared to white teens. The birth rate in 2017 for Latina and African American teens was roughly 28%, while the rate in white teens was 13%. 4 In addition, African American mothers are at higher risk for mortality compared to all US mothers, non-Hispanic white mothers and mothers in high income countries. Rates of both maternal and infant mortality in African Americans are similar to those of less developed countries. Part of this increased mortality may be related to chronic stress. African American women, both poor and affluent experience gender and racial discrimination, which can add significant stress to their lives. 5 The addition of poor health care access, undiagnosed conditions such as high blood pressure may also put this high-risk population at higher risk for the COVID-19 virus. 1
Currently, the CDC lists number of people tested for COVID-19, but does not list demographic information on who is being tested. Some are concerned that African Americans and other minorities do not have access to testing and treatment. Dr. Ebony Hilton, an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Virginia states “We know in the US that there are great discrepancies in not only the diagnosis but the treatment that African Americans and other minorities are afforded. So, I want to make sure that in this pandemic, that black and brown people are treated in the same way and that these tests are made available in the same pattern as for white people,”. Dr Leigh-Ann Webb adds, “Finding out who’s had access to tests so far would mean we’re able to correct our disparities or biases as health care providers,”. 6
Health care providers, including dietitians need to advocate for minority patients to be tested and treated during this pandemic. Many of us work with minority populations who would not or do not advocate for themselves.
As information continues to come in about COVID-19, we recognize the following:
1. The virus is deadly and must be taken seriously, no matter who you are.
2. Minorities may be at higher risk for contracting the virus.
3. Socially distancing works to slow the spread.
4. New symptoms are being discovered daily and include:
• Shortness of breath
• Dry couch
• Chest discomfort when coughing
• Lack of smell or taste
• Runny nose
Stay vigilant and aware of the health of yourself, your family and those that may be disadvantaged at this time.
2. Olanipekun T1, Effoe VS2, Olanipekun O3, Igbinomwanhia E3, Kola-Kehinde O4, Fotzeu C5, Bakinde N5, Harris R2. Factors influencing the uptake of influenza vaccination in African American patients with heart failure: Findings from a large urban public hospital.Heart Lung.2020 Jan 22. pii: S0147-9563(19)30557-6