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The number of African Americans disproportionately affected by COVID-19 is disturbing

Local 24 News political analyst and commentator Otis Sanford shares his point of view on COVID-19’s impact on African Americans.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It had been hinted at for several days. But now it’s out in the open. The deadly coronavirus outbreak is having a disproportionately negative effect on African Americans.

National news organizations such as Pro Publica and the Washington Post were the first to raise concerns that black Americans were getting the disease and dying from it – at alarmingly higher rates than other racial groups. The reporting forced political leaders and health officials to acknowledge that – in most places – they had not been keeping adequate data on the impact of the pandemic by race.

That is starting to change, and the numbers are disturbing. In Shelby County, African Americans make up about 53% of the total population. But a sampling of confirmed coronavirus cases in the county shows black residents account for 68% of the cases – and 71% of deaths.

Similar and even higher disparities are being seen across the country. There are lots of reasons for this. Mostly it involves systemic problems of poverty and a lack of quality healthcare – mixed with the fact that most of the frontline service employees who are working through the pandemic are persons of color. For them, staying home is not an option.

All of this should be a wake-up call – especially to our state and national political leaders to make access to healthcare more of a priority. Because not doing so – is proving deadly. And that’s my point of view.

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Coronavirus in Context: 

The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80-percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. 
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.