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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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COVID-19’s heavy impact on African Americans probed

The suspicion that African Americans in Shelby County were being disproportionately hit by the spread of the coronavirus surfaced earlier, with concern mounting as data showed that such was the case in other metropolitan areas. Now there is local data – and confirmation.

The Shelby County Health Department released a demographic breakdown of some confirmed cases on Wednesday.

“Of the 267 cases we examined, 68 percent were African Americans, while 29 percent were white,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, medical director for the Shelby County Health Department.

As of Wednesday, Shelby County had 897 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 21 deaths. Fatality percentages were not yet available.

This week, concern about disparity accelerated nationally toward a clamor, with alarms sounded by the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, the National Action Network and others. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, president/CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, has declared a “State of Emergency for Black America.”

Those concerns confronted President Trump at Tuesday’s White House coronavirus update, with him alternately saying he was concerned, bewildered and that the results of more analysis were forthcoming.

Locally, activists have been viewing the Health Department’s ZIP code map and sounding alarms from multiple quarters about the fate of residents with historically poor access to healthcare.

Shelby County Medical Director Bruce Randolph: “We have the ability to improve our own health. The question is, ‘Do we have the will?’” (Courtesy photo)

“While I can’t attest to what has been happening in other areas around the country, I can say that we are committed to making sure Shelby County provides equitable opportunities for individuals in all geographical areas to be tested,” said Randolph.

The New Tri-State Defender participated in a Tuesday afternoon teleconference hosted by National NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. He  called on elected officials to “ensure we are tested, treated, and protected to prevent further spread…and more loss of life in our communities.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the City of Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force announced that, with the help of several health providers, there would be new and expanded testing sites.

According to the media release, “The goal is test 1,000 people each day in addition to the tests already being performed at our local hospitals.”

Randolph, like other health officials, does not think that the coronavirus pandemic created disparity.

“First, we have to acknowledge that so goes healthcare, so goes economic development, education and every aspect of life,” said Randolph. “Healthcare is a reflection of the system as a whole. There is disparity in outcomes in every facet of our lives. Racism is a given. This is America, and it’s going to be there.”

Putting a finer point on the effects of racism, Randolph said “blacks of means who have insurance and access to good healthcare” have outcomes that tend to be the same as “their uninsured and poor counterparts.”

While inequality in healthcare exists, African Americans must find solutions within, he said.

“We must acknowledge our own responsibility in creating more positive outcomes,” said Randolph. “Dr. Martin Luther King said power is never given by the oppressor. We must struggle for it, work for it and demand it. When you are behind in a race, you must work harder and run faster to get the victory.”

Taking responsibility, he said, means being committed to following directions of personal physicians, adhering to the safety precautions put in place and taking full account of your own, personal health.”

Use must be made of the mitigation strategies put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19,” said Randolph, who has a private practice in preventive, family and occupational medicine.

“Prevent spread in the first place by avoiding crowds of more than 10 people. Stay at home because it is safer at home. Wear a mask every time you go out, and practice thorough and frequent hand-washing,” he said, wearing a mask.

Individual responsibility also involves taking control of diet and exercise, as well as following physicians’ orders in managing chronic conditions, such as heart disease, COPD, diabetes and renal failure, he said, listing obesity and smoking as additional factors.

While chronic illness is prevalent in the African-American community, Randolph said, “We have the ability to improve our own health. The question is, ‘Do we have the will?’”

A more complete demographic breakdown of COVID-19’s devastation in Memphis-Shelby County is projected to be available by Friday.

Below is a list of existing and new testing locations:

  • Church Health

Location: 1350 Concourse Ave.

By appointment only, call (901) 272-0003.

  • Memphis Health Center

Location: 360 E. H. Crump Blvd.

By appointment only, call (901) 261-2042

  • Tri State Community Health Center

Location: 1725 Pinebrook

By appointment only, call (901) 572-1573

  • Case Management, Inc.

Location: 3171 Directors Row

By appointment only, call (901) 821-5880 or email COVID-19TestCMI@cmiofmemphis.org

  • Christ Community Health Services

Location: 3362 S Third St.

By appointment only, Text “Test2020” to 91999

  • UT Drive-Through Testing @ Tiger Lane

Location: Midsouth Fairground

By appointment only, Text “covid” to 901-203-5526


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