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How did we get here? Why the black community is being hit hardest by COVID-19

Posted at 7:34 AM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 15:32:25-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Early reports from the CDC show more testing needs to be done in order to try and tackle a glaring problem. African Americans are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at alarming rates.

From Chicago to New Orleans, Milwaukee and even Denver, the data is clear. Experts say years of structured inequality and disparities in our healthcare system are contributing to this sobering, but not surprising, reality.

"Structural inequalities are a result of structural racism," said Sharelle Barber, an epidemiology instructor at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

History shows racial inequality has been a hard fought battle in the U.S. for several decades. Dr. Erik Wallace, Associate Dean for the Colorado Springs Branch, at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, says environment and other social determinants are also factors. When one category of people are considered unequal in society, the effects of that linger, making its way into our schools, our jobs, our housing, and our health care system.

"You may have a population where you have a decreased access to healthy food, lack of transportation, and a lack of high quality education," Wallace explained.

"There are all these behavioral explanations as to why this is happening," Barber said. "The narrative I've been hearing is people are blaming black people, and saying they don't eat right. It's a false narrative."

Also across the country, African Americans are also having a hard time social distancing.

"It's not because they're being irresponsible and socially distancing, it's because of circumstances don't allow them to work in a space that's safe," said Reggie Jackson, director of America's Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee.

According to the CDC, African Americans are also more likely to work in low wage jobs that are now considered essential and live in crowded situations, making social distancing difficult.

"You also maybe employed and have a job that doesn't provide health insurance, sick pay, and doesn't provide you to work from home, therefore you may have more challenges," Wallace said.

Discrimination is also a concern, especially for black men of color.

Isaac Costley owns and operates a martial arts center in Colorado Springs. Costley says for men of color the reality is, if they wear a mask or bandana to cover their face, they could get racially profiled.

"What is a person of color to do? Do we risk getting sick or wear a mask and getting approached by an officer?" he asked.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says more data is needed, so all states can get the resources to the places that need relief the most.