Montgomery County: African Americans dying of COVID-19 at much higher rate

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People wait for a distribution of masks and food from the Rev. Al Sharpton in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, after a new state mandate was issued requiring residents to wear face coverings in public due to COVID-19, Saturday, April 18, 2020. “Inner-city residents must follow this mandate to ensure public health and safety,” said Sharpton. The latest Associated Press analysis of available data shows that nearly one-third of those who have died from the coronavirus are African American, even though blacks are only about 14% of the population. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The death rate for African Americans during the COVID-19 crisis is drawing concerns from the county and medical officials as the pandemic continues into its sixth month.

Montgomery County has a population of 531,687, according to the U.S. Census website. Seventy-three percent (388,131) of the population is white while 21.5 percent (24,729) is African American. As of Aug. 3, 40 whites had died of COVID-19 in Montgomery County while 30 African Americans had died. That’s 11 times the rate of whites in the county by population.

For whites, that’s one COVID-19 death per 9,703. For blacks, that’s one death per 824. The numbers are alarming, but experts told WDTN.com it shows the issues in the current socio-economic environment and the discrepancies in the health care system.

Dan Suffoletto, the public information officer at Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County, said the pandemic has brought out the major societal and availability issues in health care.

“There’s racial disparity at all aspects of health care,” Suffoleto said. “We are really seeing it manifest in COVID-19 because more people are contracting COVID-19. But there’s been a traditional health care disparity among groups and that’s one thing we’re working on long term strategies to combat.”

Montgomery County COVID-19 Deaths by Race

RaceCountRate per 100,000
American Indian/Alaskan Native00.0
Asian or Pacific Islander214.1
Black3024.9
Other2NA
White4010.1
Unknown6NA
TOTAL8015.0
Numbers as of 8/3/2020

Socio-economic issues have come to the forefront with African Americans battling the virus. Dr. Roberto Colon, the Associate Chief Medical Officer at Miami Valley Hospital and the Vice President of Quality and Safety at Premier, said those factors make minorities and African Americans much more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, because of the socio-economic discrepancies among groups, they are holding jobs where they aren’t as free to work from home like other groups,” Colon said. “They, unfortunately, are going to be exposing themselves to higher risk exposure at a higher frequency than others are going to.

“(With socio-economic issues) there’s an association with living conditions, where there may be more people living in a household, particularly with lower-income families, who are exposing themselves to more individuals.”

Colon said the factors that contribute to worse health among African American communities are more compounded during the outbreak. He said many of the minority patients he’s seen are coming in farther into the course of the illness due to not having the ability to take off work. There are other health factors that also make them more susceptible to COVID-19, like higher rates of heart disease and high blood pressure.”

Colon said as testing has become more available over the last month and a half, medical systems have the ability to help African Americans fight COVID-19 in some cases, but the major issues that are contributing to the higher numbers can’t be dealt with during the time period of the pandemic.

“There are a lot of awareness campaigns and the governor has spoken about making sure treatments and testing are more available,” Colon said. “You will see these pop up testing areas where individuals can get testing without cost to them. I think that’s a great first step but we have to make sure these advances go beyond COVID-19 and we are able to add an extra layer of protection. How do we make health care access more available for everybody? Not just those with more resources, that leads to the compounding of these healthcare discrepancies, but making sure information and food is accessible. It goes beyond just COVID-19 and things related to COVID-19 unfortunately.”

Colon said many African American families in the working classes, along with other races in the working class, don’t have many options on how they can combat the virus. Many working-class jobs don’t offer time off or vacation, so making a trip to the doctor or taking time off to protect yourself from exposure may mean losing your job.

“You are asking people to choose between going to work and making a living and trying to protect their health,” Colon said. “That’s a very unfair decision they have to make and they shouldn’t have to make it.”

Suffoletto said these issues may take a generation to solve. He hoped people would take a hard look at racial disparities in health care like they did concerning police and race during the summer following the George Floyd protests.

“It has a lot to do with eliminating conditions that need to be dealt with outside of healthcare,” Suffoleto said. “For example, access to jobs, safer living environments, access to education and eliminating racism. Those things are bigger, longer projects we will have to wait a while to see if there’s movement on.”

Colon said many people find racial issues, particularly ones concerning health care and socioeconomics, difficult to talk about – but the conversation has to happen and happen regularly.

“It’s something that people are uncomfortable talking about and until we get comfortable with that discomfort, we aren’t going to be able to change things,” Colon said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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