NRI Pulse
City News Features

Is coronavirus the great equalizer, or does race matter?

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, April 17, 2020: Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo called the coronavirus a “Great Equalizer”. Is it? With reports of higher rates of infection and death among minorities making recent headlines, there seem to be some exceptions.

Washington Post analysis of early data from jurisdictions across the country found that the novel coronavirus appears to be affecting and killing African Americans at a disproportionately high rate compared to white Americans. The analysis found that majority-black counties had infection rates three times the rate of majority-white counties. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of nearly 1,500 hospitalizations across 14 states found that black people made up a third of the hospitalizations, despite accounting for 18 percent of the population in the areas studied.  

Louisiana, a major US hotspot, was the first southern state to categorize Covid-19 deaths by race. In Louisiana, more than 70 percent of the people who have died so far from COVID-19 were black, more than twice their 32 percent share of the state’s population, and well above the 60 percent share of the population of New Orleans, where the outbreak is worst. In New York, African Americans comprise 9 percent of the state population and 17 percent of the deaths.

“Georgia is now releasing Covid-19 cases by race too,” noted Archith Sheshadri, Atlanta Bureau Correspondent/Anchor at Nexstar Network who is currently covering the pandemic in Georgia. Racial breakdown of confirmed cases was made public in Georgia on April 9, 2020. With 60% of cases listed unknown, an incomplete data picture still shows African Americans, who make up 33% of the state’s population, compared with 60% for whites are being hit disproportionately hard by the virus, an AJC report states.

Dr. K.M. Venkat Narayan

What could be the underlying reasons, NRI Pulse asked Ruth and O.C. Hubert Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology, Emory University, Dr. K.M. Venkat Narayan. “While everyone is susceptible to Covid-19, African Americans likely have more existing medical issues (e.g., diabetes, hypertension), less access to health care, more likely to live in underserved neighborhoods, and probably more likely to work in jobs that are more prone to spread of the virus,” opined Dr. Narayan.

What about the Indian-American community? As per some floating theories, does the BCG, or Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, vaccine for tuberculosis, administered at birth in countries that have historically suffered from the disease, such as India, make the population more immune?

“At this point there is no clear indication of any particular person or community being immune to the virus. But once someone is infected, the effect of the virus varies from one person to another, affecting those with pre-existing conditions, perhaps more seriously,” observed Dr. Narayan.

“I have not seen any clear or direct evidence from the WHO or CDC regarding a particular community being immune to the virus,” says Atlanta based Dr. Jigar Patel, Emergency Medicine physician. Stressing on the importance of testing, Dr. Patel says it is the window onto the pandemic and how it is spreading. The knowledge, he says, is important to properly assess the interventions that should be implemented, including very costly interventions such as social distancing and the shutdown of entire regions and industries.

Dr. Jigar Patel

“Emergency Rooms in the Atlanta area are well equipped and ready to handle patients who might be affected with COVID-19. About 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild and those patients with mild symptoms are asked to call their healthcare providers for direction. About 20% of patients will have more severe symptoms and will require more immediate attention. Emergency departments have done a wonderful job thus far with providing immediate lifesaving care in a safe manner for healthcare workers and patients,” says Dr. Patel.

Both doctors stress upon the importance of following health guidelines, and do our part in containing the virus, be it washing hands or social distancing.

As of April 11, 2020, per report in Economic Times, more than 40 Indian-Americans and citizens of India have reportedly lost their lives with over 1,500 testing positive for the infection in United States, now the global COVID-19 hotspot with 23,604 deaths
 and 581,679 cases as of April 13, 2020. As of April 13, 2020, Covid-19 cases across the world reached 1,918,855 with 119,588 fatalities.

Among Indian citizens who have succumbed to Covid-19 in the US, more than twelve were from New Jersey and at least 15 from New York. They belonged to different states with at least 17 from Kerala, 10 from Gujarat, four from Punjab, two from Andhra Pradesh and one from Orissa. The majority of them are more than 60 years of age, except for one who was of 21 years of age.

As of April 16, 2020, GA reported 15,409 COVID-19 cases, 3024 hospitalizations, and 579 deaths.

Georgia is expected to hit peak capacity on May 1, 2020. “Despite our partnerships and undeniable progress, our testing numbers in Georgia continue to lag. As of today, we have 2,617 emergency room beds, 929 critical care beds, and nearly 6,000 general inpatient beds available statewide,” Governor Kemp said in his address on April 13,2020.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise, healthcare researchers around the world are working tirelessly to discover new life-saving medical innovations to find ways to diagnose, treat and find a vaccine to immune the population.

Whether or not the coronavirus is the great equalizer, one thing is certain. At this point, no one can be considered safely immune.  With no clear finish line, those of us on the sidelines can only do our best to flatten the curve, recognize sacrifices of those in the frontlines be it healthcare, grocery store workers, or the janitors who sanitize. A sense of gratitude for what we had and we have, a heart to extend help where needed with prayers and good wishes for those in distress can certainly uplift spirits.  As nature unleashes the best of herself, humanity can perhaps find ways to unleash their best side too, to introspect and embark on a journey from just being human beings to being human.

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