COVID-19 is hitting the black community hard. Early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that African Americans are more likely to get infected and die from the new coronavirus.
Dr. Cheryl Holder, an associate professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, is spearheading an effort to address the impact of COVID-19 on African Americans in Florida.
“I know first-hand how African-American communities are disproportionately affected by whatever is taking place in society at large. COVID-19 is no different,” she said.
Holder, an HIV specialist, is a veteran of the battle against AIDS. That experience is causing her extreme concern about the effects of the current epidemic on minority communities.
It is well known that African Americans have high rates of some of the underlying conditions that make COVID-19 more lethal. “African Americans are 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes, 20 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, 30 percent more likely to be obese, more likely to have HIV, asthma and sickle cell anemia and more likely to live in poverty… All of these underlying health conditions put African Americans at a greater risk of death if they contract COVID-19,” she wrote recently in an OpEd for the Miami Herald.
Holder is the president of the Florida State Medical Association, a regional arm of the National Medical Association, the largest and oldest organization representing African American physicians and their patients in the United States. FSMA created a COVID-19 task force and enlisted the Black Caucus and HWCOM medical students to lobby the governor and state lawmakers for help.
As a result, this weekend the Florida Division of Emergency Management sent a shipment of Personal Protection Equipment to be distributed in vulnerable communities around the state:100-thousand surgical masks, 20-thousand gloves, one thousand face shields, and nearly two thousand N95 masks.
The equipment is being handed out to African American physicians for their use and distribution to their patients.
But Holder believes more needs to be done to combat COVID-19 in the African American community, including more testing sites in black neighborhoods. The Urban League recently opened a walk-up testing site in Broward. Another testing site is in the works for North Miami.
It is also critical, she said, to effectively educate the African American community about the virus. Due to the diversity of Florida’s black communities, messaging must be targeted to individual groups based on their cultural background and native language.
“It is imperative that African Americans understand this virus, its effects, and how to protect themselves and their families,” she said.