Public health experts say COVID-19 has exposed the ugly truths of health disparities in the U.S.
NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - COVID-19 has attacked all races, the rich and the poor. Still public health and health policy experts say more must be done to achieve parity, in terms of access to healthcare in the U.S.
Dr. Carrie Henning-Smith, is with the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.
"Everything about COVID-19 is exposing the worst of us, what's already existed, none of these are new phenomena, they're just exposing all of the structural flaws and inequities that we already had backed into the system,” she said.
The virus has been particularly hard on the African American community.
In Louisiana, the latest data from the state’s health department shows 57.4 percent of those who have died from the novel coronavirus were Black and 40.4 percent were White. And more broadly, the CDC says current data suggests a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.
Public health experts from around the country participated in a videoconference sponsored by SciLine to discuss health disparities and vulnerabilities.
Dr. Sharrelle Barber is with Drexel University’s Dornslife School of Public Health.
"As of April 30 from the 38 states and Washington D.C. that are actually releasing data by race, this slide shows the rate of COVID-19 deaths reported by race and as you can see there are significant racial inequalities in COVID-19 deaths in the United States with blacks experiencing the most striking inequalities,” Barber said while referring to a graphic.
There are also concerns for the immigrant population.
"They may not be accessing healthcare systems etc., so I think that's really important to note that, you know, we're seeing these rates among blacks, but you know, we might be really missing migrant communities, undocumented communities and the like might be severely under-counted,” said Barber.
Dr. Brie Williams of the University of California’s School of Medicine said much more testing is needed, including for the incarcerated.
"In prisons and jails, you know, if we don't test for it we don't know it's there, and if don't know it's there we can't make sure that people maintain their health,” said Williams.
Another University of California professor agreed.
"I feel like we’re spending a lot of time sort of focusing on people in parks, sunbathing and not spending a lot of time on people living in homeless shelters, encampments and in correctional systems,” said Dr. Margot Kushel.
And she said there could be more deaths caused by the virus than are known.
"I would take the counts of deaths attributable to COVID with a little bit of a grain of salt at this point because what we really need to look at are excess deaths compared to what we would otherwise expect because people who are dying at home, you know, without testing those deaths are not being counted among the COVID deaths,” said Kushel.
Barber said states should take into account the virus’ impact on vulnerable communities as they plan the reopening of their economies.
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