Community leaders call for change as African Americans are at-risk for COVID-19

Posted at 6:46 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 22:58:00-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — People of all ages, races, and genders are getting rushed to the hospital for COVID-19. But, African Americans face higher mortality rates because of underlying conditions.

This week Louisiana announced 70 percent of coronavirus-related deaths were black people, even though they only account for 32 percent of their population.

Loureen Downes, Director of Nursing Practice at Florida Gulf Coast University pointed out the health issues that make it harder for many black people to fight COVID-19.

“Black individuals are disproportionately affected by diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease,” she said.

She says those underlying conditions can be controlled with earlier detection.

“Go to your healthcare provider and get your health screening, before you feel sick,” she said.

But, the NAACP President of Lee County James Muwalkkil says it’s not that easy.

“A lot of African Americans and other communities of color do not have a primary physician that they can pick up the phone and call and get medical advice,” he said.

Downes says the Family Health Centers of Southwest Florida provides screening for those diseases even if you don’t have health insurance. She says if you’re living below the poverty line or recently lost your job, you can qualify for a $20 visit with a primary physician.

She added eating healthier - which isn’t always an option because of lack of grocery stores in poorer neighbors - could reduce risks for those compromising diseases.

“We can do some things. When we go to the grocery store, we can shop the peripheral of the store where we get more fruits and vegetables,” she said.

Muwalkkil added health care professionals should take the lead on providing healthier resources.

“The medical community has to do a better job at this point in time of reaching out to those poor communities,” he said.

He added paying $20 to visit the doctor can be difficult right now for families who are also struggling to buy a hot meal.