“Or Multiple Deaths Will Continue to Occur”
Rockville, MD – A Rockville pulmonary and critical care medicine consultant and physician said more actions need to be taken immediately to protect African Americans against the coronavirus “or multiple deaths will continue to occur.”
Dr. Asefa Jejaw Mekonnen, who currently practices Pulmonary/Sleep medicine in Rockville and an outspoken advocate of health disparities affecting the African American community, said that newly released data shows that African Americans are being disproportionately impacted. However, “Very little is being discussed as a solution to protect this vulnerable population. If action is not taken immediately, we could lose a generation,” said Mekonnen, a native of Gondar, Ethiopia.
As of April 20, it was estimated that 2,416,135 people had been infected with coronavirus worldwide, with 165,939 fatalities. In the U.S. alone, 770,564 had contracted the virus, with the cities of Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and South Carolina having reported numerous deaths of African Americans due to COVID-19.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan called the disparity among African Americans “disturbing.” Black Marylanders make up 52 percent of the deaths from coronavirus, despite only being 31 percent of the state’s population. In Chicago, 68% of the deaths were recorded as African Americans, although that group is only 30% of the population. Mekonnen said that a high number of African Americans are at risk for exposure to, and infection by, the virus because of multiple socio-demographic factors. “They will do worse once they get the disease due to pre-existing chronic medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and sleep apnea.”
He noted that more strategies should be put into place for this group that exceed social distancing and staying at home.
“Staying at home is a luxury for many low-income and poor families where people have to go to work to make ends meet,” he said. He noted that an African American COVID-19 patient also will have a difficult time having a separate bed and bedroom to convalesce at home without infecting his or her family member. “Domestic spread” is a major threat to many African American families, said Mekonnen.
The lung specialist also noted that misinformation circulating that African Americans cannot get the virus has been detrimental to the population. Fueled by the absence of coronavirus cases in Africa, initially, and the belief that the virus was associated only with foreign travel, many African American on-line sites took light of the deadliness of COVID-19.
Mekonnen said that a strategy needs to be put into place immediately that will include an aggressive socially and culturally targeted educational plan that will reach African Americans.
He also recommended:
-A separate makeshift recovery place for COVID-19 patients with high crowding index in the family with provision for medical and social care
– Differential compensation for high risk service workers who are risking their life so that those who can are able to work from home
-Reducing the risk of exposure to African American families by providing food, mask distribution, etc.
-Testing criteria that recommends that African Americans from poor neighborhoods be made a priority to save the generation.
“We have had multiple deaths in this population, and it is likely to continue if swift action is not taken,” said Mekonnen. He called for urgent action by stakeholders to protect the vulnerable.
A former pulmonary section head at Suburban Hospital/Johns Hopkins medicine and a consultant intensivist in Critical Care medicine at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Gaithersburg, Mekonnen is a partner at Rockville Internal Medicine Group.