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Local physician shares thoughts on why African Americans are hardest hit by COVID-19

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Posted at 6:18 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 20:25:10-04

MILWAUKEE — While everyone is susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, the statistics show African Americans are the hardest hit demographic in Milwaukee County.

As of the most recent United States Census estimations, 27.2 percent of Milwaukee County residents are African American. However, as of Wednesday afternoon, 658 (45 percent) of the county's 1,461 confirmed cases of coronavirus are African American.

Of the 59 COVID-19 deaths in the county, 42 are African American, which makes up 71 percent of the total.

"If we are shocked and surprised, that means we're not aware of what's going on in our backyards, in our neighborhood, in our cities, forever actually," Dr. Tito Izard said.

Dr. Izard is a local family physician. He points to five key points of why the pandemic is hitting this community hardest.

Economic determinants

"The lack of wealth accumulation that exists within the African American population," Izard said. "Wealth position, which frequently isn't talked about as much, is more important than your actual income. Someone could have a job and still have zero wealth. If you lose your job, you're immediately in a crisis. So the lack of wealth accumulation that exists within the African American population, this is due to historical lineage between slavery, Jim Crow, it puts them in an economically disadvantaged position."

Health Disparities

"We are all pretty familiar with the higher risks of hypertension, diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, strokes, cancer, and such," Izard said. "African Americans are high on that list for health disparities. When you add conditions together, such as having asthma and diabetes or having hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, that is going to make a person more at risk if they're exposed to the virus."

Healthcare provider implicit bias and institutional racism

"This is really an issue we need to seriously address in healthcare," Izard said. "The healthcare provider implicit bias and institutional racism that exists. Studies show, African Americans when they present to a healthcare provider, they get diagnosed and treated differently based on the same symptoms as a white person. How we get treated when we present affects the relationship, and African Americans may present with more severe symptoms."

Lack of Primary Care Physicians in the African American Community

"Not only is it an issue with having health insurance or being under-insured, but where can I get primary care?" Izard said. "If you don't have that primary care provider and you are used to getting care through Urgent Care or the Emergency Room, you're likely to present in a late course. Someone with a long time relationship with a primary care physician, that person is more likely to contact them and be able to talk through what's going on."

Marital Status

"Marital status plays a significant status in our health," Izard said. "African American men who are married are far healthier than single African American men. While African American women have the highest rate of being single, an African American female is more likely to have a substantially good relationship with their healthcare provider than a single African American man."

Izard says the curve in the African American community won't flatten overnight. He says this is years in the making and will require help from outside sources too before things get better.

"An African American person in the Central City of Milwaukee will most likely need additional resources to help support them staying isolated," Izard said. "We need to mobilize at the grassroots community level. Working with those community members who really know those neighborhoods and use them to provide food assistance, make phone calls and make sure kids in the house are able to do their homework, make sure they have over the counter medications to get them through the 14 days. Is there assistance? Are there quarters for them to wash their laundry? Can they even stay isolated in the house? These are things we can do. Create the support with grassroots organizations so they can provide at the doorsteps of those households to get the things they need to stay isolated."

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