Will Black lives finally begin to matter?
Health authorities have known it for years. Black Americans suffer disproportionately higher rates of life-threatening and debilitating disease than other racial segments. The reasons for this systemic injustice are wide-ranging: lower access to medical care, poverty and poor housing, higher rates of smoking, insufficient food and poor nutrition… and the list goes on.
When COVID-19 struck early this year, these existing deficiencies provided fertile ground for Philadelphia minorities to contract coronavirus infection … and be hospitalized for it.  As early as April, statistics were showing that Black residents were much more likely than whites to die from complications of the disease. A key contributing factor was the large numbers of Blacks employed in essential jobs that had public exposure and could be done at home.
Now it appears that the City is doing something now about this grievous inequity and plans to do more in the future.  Some of the current steps are:
– Increasing the test sites in neighborhoods where Blacks congregate.
– Create and train a racially-focused virus response team of health department staff.
– Rapidly expanding tracing where persons are identified as coronavirus positive.
The composition of the tracing teams indicates a preponderant need in Black neighborhoods, the positive steps the city is taking. Of the 114 people brought on as tracers, 52 percent are Black; 28 percent are white; 9 percent are Asian; and 6 percent are Latinx, according to the plan.
“Racial inequities in health do not spring from the novel coronavirus,” the plan states. “They are the result of longstanding, structural inequities that are present all around us: in housing, in work, in education, in health care, in our criminal justice system and in our environment. “Right now, we need to do everything in our power to ensure that COVID-19 does not further exacerbate existing inequities,” it continues.
The Health Department is already helping groups who are fighting the virus such as the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium and Esperanza.
Philadelphia is nearing a total of 30,000 COVID-19 cases, and the city’s Black population represents nearly half of those infections. Black residents’ positive test rate is more than twice that reported by white residents, according to health department data.
 New England Medical Journal, www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2012910