Contary to falsehoods circulation on social media, black people are not immune to COVID-19. Period.
In fact, COVID-19 can pose a greater risk to blacks.
It’s time to separate fact from fiction.
The numbers do not lie. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is extremely harmful, and sometimes deadly, to older adults and those with compromised immune systems. Black Americans suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, all of which equal a compromised immune system.
According to the CDC, the prevalence of high blood pressure among black Americans is the highest in the world. High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease. Almost 48 percent of black American women and 44 percent of black American men have some form of heart disease. High blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes are the most common conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke among them.
Black American women were 20 percent more likely to have asthma than non-Hispanic White women in 2015. In 2014, black Americans were almost three (3) times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than the White Americans.
Black American adults are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic White adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician. In 2016, non-Hispanic Blacks were three and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with end-stage renal disease as compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
Of 4.9 million Black American adults, or 18.7 percent of all of them over 20 years old, have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, compared to 7.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites in the country. The risk of diabetes is 77 percent higher among blacks than among non-Hispanic white.
According to the American Lung Association, blacks suffer far more lung disease than white and have more asthma than any racial or ethnic group in the country. Blacks are three times more likely to die of asthma than whites.
Understanding that these health disparities exist, in conjunction with the Health Foundation of South Florida, we established the Live Healthy Miami Gardens initiative. It’s part of the city’s strategic and systemic effort to reduce poor health outcomes by engaging residents to improve selected public health indicators. These same poor health conditions make Miami Gardens residents more susceptible to the dangers of COVID-19. Large gatherings of people are particularly dangerous for black Americans.
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This past weekend would have been the 15th Annual Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival, bringing approximately 50,000 patrons to Miami Gardens over two days. When I decided to postpone the event, the city and I received messages from distraught people who planned to attend. I understand their frustration and disappointment. We all look forward to the event. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s festival was on track to be the most successful ever. It offers us the opportunity to share with the world the progress we have made as a city from sustainable and ongoing economic development and investment to building a healthy city where people want to live, work, and play. Still, after announcing the postponement, we were inundated with comments, many asking why we would postpone Jazz in the Gardens because black people cannot get the coronavirus.
Some among us may believe that blacks are immune to contracting the virus, we are not. Washing your hands, avoiding large gatherings, staying home, going to the doctor at the first sign of a fever and covering your mouth when you cough are not suggestions — they are our reality in combating COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus. Literally, those decisions could mean life or death.
Black Americans, this risk is ours to own, too.
Whether we are attending concerts with large crowds or merely walking down the street, we are at risk. Pay attention to the numbers. The coronavirus does not recognize race, ethnicity, gender, age or religion. It does not discriminate. Let’s remain vigilant and adhere to the CDC and WHO safety guidelines. We can’t afford not to.
Oliver Gilbert III is the mayor of the city of Miami Gardens.
This story was originally published March 18, 2020 6:22 PM.