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17 Apr 2020

Not So Sudden Impact

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April 17, 2020 Category: Local Posted by:

The African American community is getting hit hard by the coronavirus. The NAACP’s Pennsylvania State Caucus wants to talk about ways to get through it on Saturday. 

By Denise Clay

When the World Health Organization put the “pandemic” tag on the coronavirus and it hit the United States, everyone took notice.

Except, at least in America, Black folks.

Because the faces of the disease initially were mostly White, mostly privileged, and mostly able to fend for themselves, the African American community didn’t think it was something they’d have to worry about.

In fact, the popular rumor was that because it hadn’t hit the African continent, Blacks were immune.

Nothing could have been further from the truth, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“Remember, a lot of the early stories had people coming from cruises or vacations overseas with the virus,” he said. “Certainly, people of color go on cruises and do go overseas, but people of color weren’t the faces we saw.”

“It’s clear that the community is impacted by it,” Dr. Benjamin continued. “It’s also clear that if you have chronic diseases and you’re older, you’re at higher risk. Many people of color have heart disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes and a lot of other risk factors.”

On Saturday, the NAACP’s Pennsylvania State Caucus hopes to provide some insight into how to mitigate some of that impact through an online panel discussion being held on Saturday, beginning at 9a.m.

As of Wednesday, Philadelphia had 7,441 cases of the coronavirus with 222 deaths. Of those 222 deaths, 111 were in congregate settings such as nursing homes and behavioral health centers, according to Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner. 

African Americans make up 39% of the city’s cases and 52.8% of the city’s deaths from coronavirus. But they also make up a large percentage of the people who work in businesses deemed essential under stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney.

It’s the “employee for an essential business” that’s responsible for much of the attitude of the Black community regarding the virus, said Kenneth Huston, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP’s State Conference. When the priority is feeding your family and keeping a roof over your head, the word “pandemic” doesn’t have the same meaning, Huston said.

“Everyone is talking about the economic impact,” he said. “Statistics show that 60% of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. In the Black community, that’s closer to 90%. If you don’t have a 401k to fall back on, or savings to fall back on, you can’t afford to stay at home. You feel that you have to ride it out.”

You also have to consider history, and the part that social media is playing in using that history to misinform, Dr. Benjamin added. 

“We always wonder if we’re being targeted,” he said. “There’s a mistrust of the government and people have been working hard to convince people that doing things like drinking warm water can help with the coronavirus. People are desperate for solutions, even if it doesn’t make any sense.” 

But while economics in places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are ruling the day in terms of essential workers, other aspects, like a lack of access to healthcare, are also having an impact, Huston said. 

“For many African Americans, their doctor is in the emergency room,” he said. “They don’t have access to a primary care doctor. Some of them haven’t seen a doctor in years.”

“If nothing else, I’m hoping that this shows us all what happens when you don’t have a functioning public health system,” Dr. Benjamin of the American Public Health Association said. “Hopefully, we’ll get the 21st Century Public Health System we deserve.” 

The Pennsylvania NAACP’s meeting on the coronavirus will take place from 9am-11am and will be followed by an executive board meeting. To register for both events, please go to:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

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