COVID-19 is not the only pandemic ‘plaguing’ African-Americans – and it’s getting worse

The doctors in Houston are not the only ones who’ve noticed an alarming number of African-Americans are going down with coronavirus in the Texan city.

And there are growing demands for investigations to find out why.

Those running the food charities see thousands of black Americans regularly lining up out of desperation.

The number of coronavirus patients being treated at the Houston Memorial Medical Centre has jumped by 50%
Image:The number of coronavirus patients being treated at the Houston Memorial Medical Centre has jumped by 50%

People of colour make up a large proportion of those waiting for hours to get COVID-19 tests.

And the statistics jump out. The latest figures show although only about 23% of Houston’s population is African-American, around 66% of coronavirus-related deaths are from this ethnic group.

The editor of the only African-American newspaper in the area says the authorities urgently need to be alert to the disparities because the city’s black citizens are facing multiple challenges.

“There are two serious pandemics that have plagued African-Americans,” says Jeffrey L Boney.

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“One has been here since its inception and that is racism – and the other is COVID-19.

“Those two are vicious pandemics that are impacting the lives and quality of lives of African-Americans in this country.”

A graffiti memorial to George Floyd, who grew up in Houston
Image:A graffiti memorial to George Floyd, who grew up in Houston

And the situation is getting worse.

As Texas posted yet another daily record high in infections, we returned to the Houston Memorial Medical Centre less than a week after we’d last been there.

The number of coronavirus patients they’re now treating has jumped by 50%.

A new ward of 30 beds which has been opened since our last visit is virtually full.

“We are packed,” says Dr Joseph Varon, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

“There’s no question that people of colour get affected with coronavirus. At some point in time, we had more than 90% [that] were African-American and Hispanics.”

texas hospital

‘We’re fighting two wars – COVID-19 and stupidity’

One African-American mother-of-two described from her hospital bed the scramble to get into a nearby hospital.

Latanya Robinson told us: “The biggest fear is that there’s not going to be enough beds… Even with me there was not enough beds.

“They wanted to send me to Corpus Christi; they wanted to send me to Lufkin… Places where I haven’t been before, with doctors I don’t know and treatments I don’t know… Where maybe you’ll survive, maybe you won’t.”

The racial health disparity hits an ethnic group which is also suffering hardship because of the impact that the pandemic has had on the economy.

How coronavirus spread around the world

How coronavirus spread around the world

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While most of the population has been adversely affected by COVID-19, those who feel most discriminated against are hardest hit.

You don’t need to look far to see suffering on display around multiple street corners in certain parts of Houston, with people scavenging through bins and begging for small change.

Not a day has gone by whilst we’ve been in this city during the past fortnight without us being approached for help by hungry people.

“We need change in the system,” Antoine Taylor told us.

The 34-year-old works nights making steel drum kits, adding: “We’re not asking for hand-outs, we’re not asking for sympathy, we just want to be equal. We want equal opportunities.”

None of the group we spoke to wore face masks, despite knowing they were statistically at higher risk of being infected by coronavirus.

Texan berates ‘stupid’ reporter for wearing mask

To many of them, racism is a far bigger challenge than the pandemic.

“We got so much other s*** to worry about,” Caesar Bambino explained.

He’s served seven years for aggravated robbery and insists he fell into crime out of desperation.

A father-of-one nearby said: “We can’t get jobs… The only way of getting money for people like us is to sell drugs.”

Houston is where George Floyd grew up. There are graffiti memorials to him dotted across the city.

His killing six weeks ago was graphically captured on video, whilst he cried out for his mother and begged the police officer with his knee on his neck to let him breathe.

George Floyd. Pic: Shutterstock
Image:George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Pic: Shutterstock

Mr Floyd’s death provoked mass protests about racism across the globe.

But for the African-Americans we spoke to in Houston, despite the worldwide horror and demands for change, there’s little difference in their everyday lives.

And they’re now being affected disproportionately by a double whammy of coronavirus and racism.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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