Why Has COVID-19 Disproportionately Impacted African Americans?

African Americans are more likely to have preexisting conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity, putting them at a higher risk of complications from the coronavirus.

Ascension Michigan

As she prepared to begin working with patients in a COVID-19 unit, Dr. Jamila Taylor, M.D., a family practice physician with Ascension Medical Group, experienced a range of emotions. “Most of us go to medical school learning to identify, diagnose and manage a condition, but you know, this novel coronavirus is something new to us all. So, I think there’s an inherent anxiety that comes along with something very new and not knowing what you’re going to do for it,” Dr. Taylor says.

“I think also just being human, the human experience of all of this is one that brings up multiple questions. You have your own anxiety, you’re concerned about your family and how they will fare through the same process along with you, whether you’ll get sick personally, whether you’re putting them at risk.”

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Those concerns are very real, particularly for the Black community. According to multiple reports, early data shows that African Americans are more likely to die of COVID-19 than any other group in the United States. “There is a disproportionate burden of this illness and even the deaths amongst minority groups, and there’s lots of factors that play into that,” she says.

African Americans are more likely to have preexisting conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity, putting them at a higher risk of complications from the coronavirus. Social determinants of health, she adds, have a major impact on health outcomes. 

“When you look at things like where a person lives and learns, works and plays, those things are going to vastly impact their health as well. So, air pollution, incarceration, the fact of being in isolation or having to quarantine oneself, and how they do that in the context of their living situation” matters, Dr. Taylor notes. And because many people are essential workers, whether a patient care tech or grocery clerk, they are unable to work from home which results in more incidences of exposure.

So, what can be done? Dr. Taylor recommends checking in with and maintaining good communication with your primary care physician. Also, she says, “It’s important for us to continue to work to create a healthier version of ourselves by eating the proper foods, reducing our stress levels and making sure that we are getting some type of physical activity.” 

Mental health is just as important as physical health, so inform your primary care physician if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. “The one thing I would want to encourage people to do at this time is to stay connected,” she says. That includes keeping involved in the political process to understand the public health system. Dr. Taylor says, “The way that we can make things better for all of us is to engage.”

Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting ascension.org/michigan or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627).

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