WSB-TV Gets Real: Digging deeper into racial disparities and COVID-19 cases

No one is immune to COVID-19 and we’re still learning so much about how the disease affects different people. One thing has been evident: people of color have faced greater risks.

Channel 2′s Nicole Carr looked into what we know, six months into the pandemic, about racial inequities and COVID-19.

[SPECIAL SECTION: WSB-TV Gets Real]

“I was having aches, pains, chills, back aches, cough. I lost my taste, my smell. Everything.”

Deborah Crowder’s symptoms matched everything on the list. Last month, the 47-year-old tested positive for COVID-19.

“Several nights I could feel myself stop breathing as I slept," she said.

Although Crowder has rarely left her Carroll County home since March, there are things on another list that checked off and made Crowder a prime candidate for COVID-19: African-American, underlying conditions, living in a multi-generational home, with children who work essential jobs.

“When we talk about how race and ethnicity are interplaying with risks for COVID 19, what we’re really talking about is your ability to socially distance. Your ability to stay at home,” Dr. Jodie Guest told Carr.

Guest is a research professor in epidemiology at Emory University. In addition to historical inequities in healthcare access and treatment. Guest highlights occupation and economics in factor behind the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has on minorities.

People of color are more likely to work in essential jobs that just can’t be done remotely.

CDC research shows nearly a quarter of working Hispanic, Black or African Americans work in the service industry compared to 16% of non-Hispanic white workers.

Blacks and African-Americans make up 30% of licensed practical and vocational nurses. Many people of color rely on public transportation to get to these jobs.

“So when all of us were sent home in mid-March, are you in one of the professions or jobs that continue to work and was necessary to keep our community going and that continues to put you at increased risk," Guest said.

According to some of the CDC’s latest research, COVID-19 hospitalization rates among non-Hispanic Black people and Hispanic or Latino people are 4.7 times the rate of non-Hispanic white people.

All of this is compounded by pre-pandemic factors.

“People do whatever they have to, to survive," said Jane Ridley, who lives in Mechanicsville.

In February, right before we became familiar with COVID-19, we took a look at NYU research comparing life expectancy in more than 500 US cities. Carr look at 11 of them here in Georgia and in metro Atlanta.

In Buckhead’s Paces neighborhood the life expectancy was 87, but in Mechanicsville it drops by two decades.

“I’m surprised it’s 65," Ridley said. “We’re not eating right because it’s a food desert. We’re not sleeping good because of the violence we might hear in the neighborhood.”

Some of the reasons behind it also play a part in how COVID-19 impact minority communities, where residents are more likely to suffer from certain ailments and less likely to have access to things like decent air quality and spacious housing options.

“Cities with high variability of life expectancy by neighborhood are also the same cities that are experiencing segregation patterns that push Black and Latino families into neighborhoods that have been deprived," Dr. Lorna Thorpe with NYU Langone Health said.

“When you go back in time you realize that underlying the root causes of these inequities are political determinacies," said Daniel Dawes, Morehouse School of Medicine’s Director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute and Associate Lead for Government Relations.

Then there’s a problem that will play into moving past COVID-19.

“Can you talk about how trust factors into this?” Carr asked Guest.

“Yes, there is no doubt that there have been many, many, many years and many examples of communities of colors being taken advantage of in medicine and research,” Guest said.

A recent Gallup poll showed a third of Americans polled said they won’t accept a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available.

“And if you are a minority, how can you feel confident that for the first time, society is now giving you a preference, and you say to yourself, ‘No. No, they’re using me as a guinea pig,’ because they don’t want to be the first ones to be vaccinated?” said Dr. Bill Foege, a former CDC director.

“And I still hear people say that they don’t think it’s that serious," Crowder said. "And I hear people say I don’t know where to get tested. I can’t afford to get tested and so and so forth.”

Four members of her immediate family have also tested positive for COVID-19, including her son who can’t work remotely. Crowder and health experts said testing and knowledge are power.

“I think a lot of people are just afraid to know the truth. I think a lot of people are just ashamed of saying ‘I have COVID,” Crowder said.

“I think that to some extent if there’s a silver-lining in COVID 19, it’s that it’s a given national stage to really speak about these generational issues of racism and inequality in a way that I don’t think our nation has really done, and hasn’t done well-for sure. And we certainly are not doing enough, but it’s now a national conversation” Guest