NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has had an extraordinarily devastating impact on communities of color across the country.
Connecticut is no exception to this national trend.
In New Haven, black people account for nearly 50% of the city’s coronavirus-related deaths. Communities of color are being infected, hospitalized and are dying at disproportionate rates.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of COVID-related deaths,” said New Haven Funeral Director, Howard Hill.
Hill said he’s buried multiple families at a time.
“I have seen two parents and a son in the hospital at the same time,” said Hill.
The latest statistics paint a sobering picture for communities of color across Connecticut. According to a recent UConn Health study, based on Connecticut’s state population, black people are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 than white people.
“Some of the things that we are alarmed about is the fact that 30% of blacks who are tested for the coronavirus are positive,” said Dr. Cato Laurencin, Designated University Professor at the University of Connecticut and author of the first COVID-19 study on African-Americans in Connecticut. “Eight percent of whites who are tested for coronavirus are positive. Which implies to me, especially in the context that more blacks are dying, is maybe they are getting treated later if they are being seen later.”
According to the U.S. Census, the State of Connecticut is comprised of 66.5% Whites, followed by 16.5% Hispanics/Latinx, 12% Black, and 4% Asian.
In New Haven, African-Americans account for nearly 50% of COVID-related deaths, but only make up about 30% of the city’s population. The question is: Why the disproportionate numbers?
Health experts said the pandemic and its suffocating impact on communities of color in Connecticut comes down to inequities that face people of color every day.
“There are health disparities,” said Dr. Patti Rose, a health disparities expert with Yale University roots. “There is social injustice. There is poverty, all of these factors which we in public health refer to as social determinants. So, these social determinants are in existence, there’s no doubt about it and this problem of health disparities has increased over time; it’s not getting better, it’s actually getting worse.”
Dr. Rose told News 8 the disparities are a multi-layer issue.
“In some ways, that is not surprising given the income inequality that disproportionately impacts communities of color and creates a scenario where people may not have the ability to telework or the ability to take time away from work and are working service jobs where they are forced to interact with a lot of people,” said Elm City Mayor Justin Elicker.
Studies have shown that only 1 in 5 black Americans can work from home; the majority are essential workers in a pandemic with no choice but to continue working.
“People who we need in our society in order to function and those are people who are driving buses, those are postal workers, those are people who are working as cashiers in restaurants and some of the frontline workers that we’re all referring to,” said Dr. Rose. “The people who have to do that work are usually the people who are least paid. This is very unfortunate because these are the individuals that are experiencing the brunt of health disparities and health inequities and consequently we are not taking the opportunity to rectify the problems associated with their daily life before a crisis hits. So when the crisis hits, it’s magnified.”
To make things worse, at the height of the crisis many African-Americans in Connecticut were unable to be tested for coronavirus due to a lack of insurance and the lack of access to a primary care doctor.
“If you look at what’s going on in terms of Black America, we really have suffered the brunt of discrimination over the last hundreds of years, and that also continues now, to be frank,” said Dr. Laurencin. “So, we see the different parameters that come into play; one is obviously the access to care and the quality of care.”
The paralyzing pandemic has shined a light on the legacy of oppression and lack of access for many urban communities across Connecticut, things like the lack of adequate health insurance, the lack of access to healthy food options in poor communities, underlying health conditions and the inability to practice social distancing.
All of the factors prove to be deadly when mixed with the violent threat of COVID-19 and the black community.
The coronavirus case numbers highlighted the deficiencies of the American Health Care System.
“We have to take into account the prevalence of underlying health conditions is higher among certain members of our population, that the economic opportunities are more difficult to come by for certain members of our population and that these things are collectively making this situation that much harder on certain members of our population,” said Sarah Lewis, Vice President of Diversity at Hartford Health Care.
It’s the reasoning behind a call to action from black leaders.
“We want measurable results in reference to dealing with this crisis in our communities,” said NAACP-CT President, Scot X. Esdaile. “The poor and the vulnerable people are the ones that are getting hit the hardest.”
Health experts say when state leaders consider re-opening and moving to some sense of normalcy, they should consider flattening the curve for communities of color as a compass.
“We have to have compassion for people that are poor, we have to have compassion for black and brown people in this nation and until we do that, people are going to suffer. Because if we wanna change it, we will change it,” said Dr. Patti Rose.
Dr. Laurencin from UConn Health is calling for a national commission on COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities to help curb the spread through testing and ultimately flatten the impact on communities of color.