WASHINGTON — Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans have many underlying health conditions, including asthma and heart disease, that could make them more vulnerable to complications from the coronavirus, leaving advocates, lawmakers and public health experts worried these long marginalized communities won't get equal access to tests and treatment as the outbreak spreads.
“The virus is an equal opportunity crisis … but the impact and the burden of it is not going to be shared equally,’’ said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, a public health expert and assistant professor at Columbia University in New York City. “Like most things in society, it's going to be regressive. It's going to be felt disproportionately by the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized and obviously that falls down in this country on communities of color.’’
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the country, advocates and civil rights groups are pushing to get local and federal lawmakers to focus attention on communities of color and steer resources to places like reservations and community health centers that serve them.
Some are calling for federal officials to track the number of people of color who have died from coronavirus and to set up a commission to study how coronavirus is spreading in those communities.
There were more than 140,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. by Monday morning and more than 2,500 deaths. Officials have so far not released information on race and coronavirus cases.
“You need to do this with intention,'' said Vasan, who is also president & CEO of the mental health charity Fountain Housebased in New York City. "You need to map out which communities are already at the margins of care and resources and testing and already have preconditions, disproportionate health conditions, and then say, ‘All right, how do we ensure that we're going there?’"