Systemic Healthcare And Income Inequality Are Why COVID-19 Is Killing Black People

April 15, 2020

What good are drive-up testing sites if you don't have a car? Dr. Leon McDougle explains how successful health outcomes are tilted against black and brown communities.

What good are drive-up testing sites if you don't have a car? Dr. Leon McDougle explains how successful health outcomes are tilted against black and brown communities.


Latrel and Kenisha Dench wear surgical masks as customers are required to cover their noses and mouths at the reopened Municipal Fish Market after the it was temporarily closed last week during the coronavirus pandemic April 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Kim Brown. Do you remember how different things were just a few short months ago? Are you comfortable greeting people with hugs and kisses? The coronavirus pandemic has shifted our entire society, including the way we work, the way we interact and the way we socialize.

However, African-American communities are bearing the brunt of this disease in ways that other communities are not experiencing. What are some of the reasons behind that? And what are some of the emerging behaviors of the virus that could help perhaps save lives as we go forward throughout this pandemic?

Well, joining us today to discuss this is Dr. Leon McDougle. Dr McDougle is the president-elect of the National Medical Association representing the collective voice of 45,000 African-American physicians. He’s also pinned an op-ed recently that’s gotten a lot of attention, From Katrina to Coronavirus What Have We Learned? And Dr. McDougle joins us today. So, thank you so much for your time.

Dr. Leon McDoug…: Thank you for inviting me to talk with you this afternoon.

Kim Brown: So, doctor, before we get into some of the reasons why people of color and communities of color are dying at greater numbers than white people, for example, I wanted to get into some of the emerging information that is coming out about the coronavirus, about how it’s spread and how people who contract the virus, how they are being affected if they end up surviving the illness.

When we talk about the new data that has been released, there’s a story that’s floating around the internet that says that the coronavirus can now travel up to 13 feet airborne. What are some of the other ways that people are contracting this virus? Can you contract it via touch, via blood? How is this virus transmitted?

Dr. Leon McDoug…: So, respiratory droplets, that would be a primary mode of transmission. And then also, touching surfaces that have been infected by someone who has coronavirus. In medical school we call those fomites. And so, coming into contact with a surface that has been contaminated. So, what you’re saying, Kim Brown, really makes it important that we follow recommendations for prevention of transmission.

And Dr. McDougle, what would that be? One, we just had resurrection weekend, right? And one of the best ways from a spirituality standpoint, a church-going standpoint, would be worship in place. And what does that mean? It means worship in place in your home. And also, shelter in place. So what does that mean? Shelter in place in your home, not at the local store, not at the restaurant. And if you should happen to go into public settings, you should be wearing a mask.

Now, one caveat to that, Kim Brown. So, there have been reports of African-American males being thought of as criminals and thought of being in the place of business to do things other than to purchase a product or item. And so, what I’ve been recommending is that African-American males, especially, if we’re wearing the mass, maybe choose a white color or a light blue color similar to the medical mask, or actually if you can get a medical mask versus having a black mask. And then, if you got a black mask and a hoodie on, then there are already these implicit biases out there. So, just something to keep in mind when we get recommendations to wear a mask.

And I got another good story. I got a good story for you Kim Brown. So, I’m hearing all the chatter on television about, “The hand sanitizers are sold out at the stores.” Right? So, I went through the store and that was correct. I mean, the whole shelf was empty. But guess what? Right next to that empty space was a whole shelf full of hand soap with the dispensers.

So, what does that mean? Right? So, you shouldn’t be shaking anybody’s hand anyway. So, go ahead and buy some of that hand soap and put it in your restroom and in your bathrooms and use it with some water. So, soap and water washing your hands, warm water for 20 seconds, that’s recommended. And there’s plenty of soap in the store. I checked. Whole shelves full of it.

Kim Brown: You are right about that Dr. McDougle. I don’t think soap is getting it’s proper respect these days, especially when juxtaposed with hand sanitizer. But I wanted to circle back to something that you mentioned, because in addition to a number of pre-existing conditions that so many people in the black community are dealing with, in addition to having to protect yourself going out in public from contracting COVID-19, it’s the racism that will also get you.

And racism was getting a good number of us before this pandemic even erupted. And the advice that you just gave black men in particular about wearing certain types of mask, I would assume to appear as nonthreatening as possible when being out in public spaces, is sound advice. And it’s not dissimilar from the advice that African-American parents give their teenage children when they begin to drive about how to best interact with police in order to save your life.

But the Centers for Disease Control listed obesity and hypertension as two of the main underlying conditions which can precipitate hospitalization, should those patients come in contact or become infected with coronavirus. So, what is it about these underlying conditions that make people more susceptible? And why do black people have more of these underlying conditions than other communities?

Dr. Leon McDoug…: So, let me go back to what you spoke to earlier. You touched on racism and then we went into these other comorbidities or other illnesses that are more prevalent in the African-American population. So, let’s redirect to the process of even getting tested, right? So, they’re scarce. There’s scarcity in regards to the testing kits available. So, to address that, algorithms have been developed to ask questions. So, there is a screen before the screen.

And what we’re finding out is that more European Americans are giving the right answers to this test and are getting screened. And it doesn’t quite fit with the fact that African-Americans, Latinx, American Indian and Alaska Natives are being affected more pronouncedly when they contract COVID-19. And so, even from the very beginning, getting their screening, there’s some disparities.

Now, I’ll give you another example. You watch your nightly news and they say, well, we have this breaking news. They’ve set up COVID-19 screening centers. So that the SUV driving in, right? And people getting their nasal swabs or so forth. But Kim Brown, what they’re not saying is that many of these same drive-in centers, there are opportunities for people to walk in, right? But that’s not being advertised.

And so, if you don’t have a car and on top of that… If you don’t have a car, so now you don’t have a car, there’s access available for you through walk-in, where you are unaware. So, there needs to be public service announcements, culturally sensitive, multi-lingual that speak to that. So, if you know you don’t have a car, you’re just going to wait [inaudible 00:00:10:04]. I don’t have a car. So what am I going to do?

Then, in addition to the screening questions that I spoke to, one of my colleagues in another state, I’m in Ohio, was saying that one actually needs to have a prescription from a physician to get screened. So, we’ve identified another barrier. So, what if you don’t have a primary care physician or a relationship with a physician, that puts you at another disadvantage.

Now, I’m going to introduce something else. So, many of these cities with the high prevalence of COVID-19 and they’re sheltering in, they’ve limited mass transportation. So, now you’re black or brown, you’re in a high-density city, they’ve limited mass transportation. And so, how are you even supposed to get to the testing center? If you, for some reason, pass the test, okay, and now you have to get on a train or bus to get to where you need to go for the testing, if you know that the walk-in is even available.

So, these are some issues that are not discussed much. So, Kim Brown, that’s why I’m glad we’re having this conversation here today. And also, with the National Medical Association, we’re partnering with Rainbow PUSH, with Reverend Jesse Jackson and putting together a 10-point agenda to help address some of these disparities, for example, with limitations in travel in communities that are a health professional shortage areas and then actually deploying mobile COVID-19 testing through a mobile testing unit. And targeting those communities that have lower access and higher risks to developing COVID-19 infection.

Also, when algorithms are used to screen who and who should not receive the test, we’re advocating that African-Americans, Latinx, American Indians, Native Alaskans should receive a priority rating in regards to the waiting of whatever criteria is being used.

And then, there’s this whole issue of persons who are incarcerated. So, Kim Brown, there are people who are incarcerated in jail that have not gone to trial, have not been convicted, and they’re in a setting where they’re at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 coronavirus. And only due to the fact that they were unable to post bail that they are in jail.

So, that’s another pool of people who we think there should be mechanisms to quickly adjudicate those circumstances and help them until their trial comes up. Either some type of home arrest or whatever mechanism that’s available to help address those concerns. So, there’s a lot.

Kim Brown: Well, Dr McDougle, let me hop in here for a minute because you raised a number of interesting points. And to be frank, people who are in the top levels of our federal government, especially amongst those who work in the public health sector, there is no way that these outcomes that you described could not have been foreseen in advance. Again, as you mentioned, with the prison population, we already know or we had an idea of how contagious this virus is. It wasn’t a question of if, but rather of when.

And discussing black communities, indigenous communities and Latinx communities who have already uneven access to health care, uneven access to transportation, uneven access to information, in some cases, about what to do and what not to do in the midst of a pandemic. We are in the midst of this wildfire, but the kindling had long been laid.

Is this ineptitude from the federal level in their response, in their lack of preparedness for this? Surely they had to have known that vulnerable populations like the black population in many cities with the circumstances that you’ve outlined and that I’ve outlined, surely they had to know that these groups would have been impacted first and hardest.

Dr. Leon McDoug…: So, Kim Brown, a very good proposition there with regards to this issue. And so, it reflects back on, and I shared earlier about the article that I wrote, From Katrina to Coronavirus, and how the national weather service was able to track the impending strike of Hurricane Katrina. And with this coronavirus, the national intelligence agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization were tracking the impending strike of coronavirus. So that’s the line with what you were saying.

And with the prior administration, an actual pandemic planning and response team had been assigned by President Obama. And that group, that task force was disbanded. So, yes, people who have known that a pandemic such as this was inevitable. And that’s what makes this November important. For people in the audience, sitting at home is not an option. Learning what the issues are will better serve our communities. So, you bring up a very good point.

Kim Brown: Well, doctor, I mean, sitting at home has to be an option at this point, does it not? I mean, there has to be alternatives provided to going physically into the polls to vote. It’s just that-

Dr. Leon McDoug…: So, mail. So, I mean, Ohio, we just got four mail-in ballots, ballots in the mail. So, mail-in ballots are important and should be utilized wherever possible.

Kim Brown: Well, doctor, to wrap up our conversation, if you had the ear of every community of color nationwide, because it is quite clear that the federal response is lacking. Depending on what state you are, the state response is lacking to the black, brown and indigenous communities. Tell us, what can we do to save ourselves in the midst of this pandemic?

Dr. Leon McDoug…: So, we’ve gone over some of these already. Staying six feet apart, no mass gatherings, worship in place and that means at home, shelter in place and that means at home. And I know that shelf of hand sanitizer is empty, but turn your head to the right and get some hand soap and wash your hands for 20 seconds in warm water. And those are some of the main things, so just really… This is serious. Wear the mask out in public. And we talked about the precautions too for African-American males.

The National Medical Association with Rainbow PUSH, we’re going to be putting out a 10-pointed agenda even going into more of the details, flushing out what we were talking about earlier. And so, this is a very serious issue that the African-American multi-cultural communities should be very well-versed in and advocate for yourself. Take care of yourself due to the points that you importantly have brought out here today in this conversation.

Kim Brown: All right. Well, we appreciate your time today. We’ve been speaking with Dr. Leon McDougle. He is the president-elect of the National Medical Association, representing over 45,000 African-American physicians. He’s been speaking to us today from Cleveland. Dr McDougle, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Dr. Leon McDoug…: Thank you very much, Kim Brown, and to all your staff that helped get us set up here today.

Kim Brown: Absolutely. Well, thanks again and thank you for watching The Real News Network.