Monday, April 27, 2020

Rural African-Americans in Ga. fear reopenings will leave them more vulnerable; pattern could show up in other states

Washington Post map; click on it to enlarge.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp allowed some businesses to reopen Friday, but African-Americans in hard-hit rural areas say it's too soon, and worry they will suffer the worst fallout, since they appear to be more susceptible to the coronavirus. "They fear the restart will spike new infections, particularly in the southwest region, with some of the highest death rates in the nation," report Reis Thebault, Andrew Ba Tran and Vanessa Williams of The Washington Post. "In these small, interconnected towns, where everyone seems to know everyone else, each death reverberates."

Jeff Zeleny reports for CNN, "The reopening of some Georgia businesses, which started including restaurants on Monday, was at odds with White House Task Force guidance for states to first have a 14-day decline in coronavirus cases. After initially signaling his support for Kemp, Trump criticized the move after his medical advisers voiced strong concern."

Though African-Americans make up about 30 percent of Georgia's population, they account for more than half of its covid-19 deaths. The death rate is especially high in rural counties with majority-black populations, the Post reports. Part of that is because of systemic inequalities: Georgia did not expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, so its low-income residents are less likely to have health insurance; African Americans are more likely to have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, and ate more likely to work in industries with a greater risk of virus exposure, the Post reports.

Rural areas have less access to nearby hospital care, and rural health-care providers have a harder time accessing testing and personal protective equipment, the Post reports. Georgia, as a whole, ranks 40th in terms of how many tests are available per person.

Two funerals in Albany turned southwest Georgia into a pandemic hot spot in early March. City Commissioner Demetrius Young told the Post that residents will continue to die at disproportionate rates without better testing and virus tracking, and worries that reopening businesses will be disastrous. "To open up businesses where it’s impossible to practice social distancing — hair salons, nail salons, theaters — people are like, what? You want to put everybody in a closed room, and that’s supposed to be okay?" Young said. "For black folks, it’s like a setup: Are you trying to kill us?"

Andrew Pavia, head of the pediatric infectious diseases division at the University of Utah School of Medicine, told the Post that Georgia's rural death-rate disparity, especially among African-Americans, may be happening in other states: "It’s a perfect storm for risk of death when the virus lands in these poor, more rural communities."

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