CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - With coronavirus surging nation-wide, and Virginia nearing 200,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, doctors are still trying to solve a persistent and pressing issue: the racial divide in both cases and case severity.
According to the most recent US Census Bureau projections the Thomas Jefferson Health District is 12.7% Black. Slightly exceeding that, Black patients make up 13.7% of COVID cases in the TJHD. The difference is even more stark in the Latino community: making up 16.5% of all cases despite being just 5% of the district population.
“COVID-19, just like many different things in society is really a symptom of this underlying disease that we need to correct ultimately, and this is just one different manifestation of it," UVA COVID ICU Doctor Taison Bell said. "While some people are able to shelter in place and earn their paycheck at home, there are more people in our community who actually have to go out and go to their place of work to get their paycheck. There’s also a higher chance that people from minority backgrounds will live in more dense multi generational housing. We know that home transmission actually is probably the majority of transmission for COVID-19.”
The rate of severity is also much higher among Black patients: They make up 34.3% of hospitalizations and 22% of deaths.
“The reasons behind why Black and Latino families are more likely to live in dense underserved areas and multi-generational housing relate a lot to economic and housing discrimination and employment discrimination practices,” Bell explained.
Addressing those root causes will take more than PPE, but Bell says basic preventative steps could make all the difference in stopping the spread.
"The best thing that we can do for ourselves and for others is to practice public health practices: wearing masks, social distancing, trying to avoid indoor, enclosed spaces,” Bell explained.
From a policy perspective, Bell points to the TJHD’s current trend overall as a sign that lockdowns should probably be handled on a local level. However, he does say that a national mask mandate would be incredibly useful to stopping the spread.