Doctors say coronavirus is hitting the Black population particularly hard

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 2:38 PM CDT
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By Ashley Bowerman | June 29, 2020 at 10:12 PM CDT - Updated June 30 at 6:39 AM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Demographic data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows that the Black population in Alabama is the leading race in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

As of Monday, Black people make up just over 37 percent of total confirmed cases and 46 percent of deaths, despite amounting to only 27 percent of Alabama’s total population.

These numbers are being reflected in the patients doctors say they are treating in Montgomery hospitals.

“The representation in the intensive care unit is very top-heavy with our black population,” said Montgomery-area pulmonologist Dr. William Saliski. “We have probably over 80, actually, probably over 90 percent of our patients on ventilators that are critically ill are Black.”

Infectious Disease Dr. Tiara Hypolite at Jackson Hospital says she too is seeing a disproportionate amount of people in the Black community being affected.

“Their symptoms are more moderate to severe and I’ve seen many middle-aged Black women being affected and dying, unfortunately,” said Hypolite.

But, why is this? Saliski says a lot can be traced back to comorbid illnesses.

“The Black population has higher incidence of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, [and] obesity,” Saliski said. “And certainly, COVID just lives in that environment.”

“All of the things that lead to increased death, unfortunately, is hitting our African American community and other minorities the hardest,” said Montgomery County Coroner Dr. John Jernigan. “We strongly advise them to do everything possible to prevent the infection.”

However, Hypolite said, “I’ve had patients that didn’t have any comorbidities and they got sick as well.”

“But that’s just the beginning of the story,” Saliski said. “The next part of that story is the socioeconomic one.”

Dr. Saliski said their patients are poor.

“They have limited access to health care,” Saliski said. “Some of our patients don’t have cars to make it to their physicians. They have either bad insurance or no insurance. Their diets are poor, and with the money they have, they have to live, and they don’t eat correctly. As a result, their diabetes is poorly controlled making their immune system open to this disease process.”

Another factor? Their jobs.

Saliski says service industry jobs and multi-generational housing makes it hard to social distance.

“Our Black families have their grandmothers, their mothers, their kids, their grandkids, all living in one house,” Saliski said. “And they can’t social distance.”

Doctors say although the Black community is being largely impacted no one is immune.

They said this is not a racial disease, and that anyone can contract COVID-19.

“It’ll affect a 65-year-old Caucasian male that has diabetes and hypertension just as much as would affect a Black male with the same problem,” Saliski said. “It affects the lungs and moves on from there, and based on your immune system, if you’re Black, White or purple you can die from this.”

Copyright 2020 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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