‘This should not be surprising to us’; Health director speaks about COVID-19 impact on African Americans in Meck Co.

COVID-19's impact on minority communities

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When it comes to coronavirus in Mecklenburg County, the African American community makes up 48 percent of the positive cases.

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris spoke about the situation during a Wednesday press conference.

A majority of the positive cases in the African American community of Mecklenburg County are in people age 60 or older with underlying health conditions.

More than 50 percent of Mecklenburg County virus-related deaths are in the African American community.

“This should not be surprising to us,” Harris said.

Harris said the African American population is the hardest hit by all of the chronic diseases and infections in Mecklenburg County, including HIV, which Harris directly referenced.

“This is the population where we are seeing the biggest challenges around social determinants - jobs, housing, education,” Harris said. “So why should it be surprising that COVID-19 is treating this population any differently? This is just symptomatic of the problems we have in our system for this particular population in our community.”

Harris say the county has to look at ways to increase access to both testing and care, as well as getting the message out in ways the African American community can receive.

“As we’re trying to do that, we will be working with radio stations that specifically target this particular population. In addition to that, we’re working on some print material that we can make available through churches and others in our community that this community trusts for their messaging,” Harris said.

Harris says she wants residents to think strategically and critically about what they do, day in and day out, and how they can be a apart of the community solution.

“This is critical if we’re going to be able to serve this community, as well as everyone else in our county," Harris said.

WATCH LIVE | MECKLENBURG COUNTY COVID-19: More than 800 people have coronavirus in Mecklenburg County with 8 reported deaths » https://bit.ly/2JPtmyv County health officials are providing an update now.

Posted by WBTV News on Wednesday, April 8, 2020

County leaders are concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having on the African American community.

“We’ve got to develop a plan on how we are going to attack.” Mecklenburg County District Four Commissioner Mark Jerrell said.

Jerrell says he will request more data from the county health department and request it often. He believes the data will help minority communities during this pandemic. This is more than just a local issue - Jerrell believes state numbers need to be looked at too.

The numbers in North Carolina show Blacks make up about 38% of COVID-19 cases and 31% of deaths. African American make up about 22% of the total population. Leaders are concerned these numbers deserve an action plan.

“We can’t run from it,” Jerrell said. “We have to run to it. We’ve got to hit in head on and we got to make sure that we understand what is the data telling us and how is the data telling us we need to be responding.”

Jerrell says that response to the data could include more education about health matters taking place in the Black community and more resources to offer help.

“We have to go as far as we can,” the commissioner said. “To make sure that we’re leveling the playing field when it comes to all those social determinants of health.”

Local leaders concerned how COVID-19 impacts African Americans

Leaders believe reasons why some blacks suffer with battling COVID-19 more than others is pre-existing illnesses, a lack of healthcare and many are on the front lines working in the grocery stores, gas stations and as a sanitation worker.

The headlines are the same in other states like Illinois, Wisconsin and Louisiana. State Representative Carla Cunningham is also troubled about how COVID-19 impacts blacks.

Cunningham has about 35 years in the health care profession and serves on the state health committee monitoring the pandemic. She says one way to help minorities is to offer healthcare. She says this disparity is constantly on her radar when she is at the State House.

Local NAACP President Rev. Corine Mack is also concerned. She knows several people - all black - who have suffered or died from COVID-19.

“This happened with my friends in New York City,” Mack said. “My friends in Florida. My friends in Michigan.”

Mack says this is also a concern of other NAACP leaders around the country.

"We all have the same concerns," Mack said. "We are beginning to look at the numbers and saying this is a problem. This is a clear and concise problem and it needs to be addressed."

Jerrell says he wants to address this so minority communities will have what it takes when it comes to the next pandemic.

“This will not be the last crisis that we face,” Jerrell said. “And so we are in a new world right now and we’ve got to make sure that we are providing equity to people.”

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