Virus wreaks havoc among most vulnerable


Part 3 of a continuing story
The national NAACP is holding virtual town hall meetings throughout the month of April to discuss the health, economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s Black communities. In addition to providing excerpts from these meetings as they occur over the coming weeks, the MSR also is talking to others both locally and nationally about the impact the coronavirus outbreak is having or may have on our local Black community. This week we look at the coronavirus impact on the often forgotten members of the Black community.

Photo courtesy of U of M School of Public Health Dr. Rachel Hardeman

Seniors, pregnant women, low-wage service workers and most people of color appear to be bearing the brunt of the coronavirus crisis. According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), nearly 30% of adults aged 65 and older are more likely to be exposed to the virus, especially if living in nursing homes and long-term care centers. Over 20% of Minnesota COVID-19 confirmed cases have been found in the facilities.

Minneapolis officials reported last week that over 90% of city residents who have died from COVID-19 lived in senior care or “congregate living” facilities. MDH and city statistics are still inconclusive on the virus’ impact specifically on Black seniors.

“Generally we are not doing a great job in regards to our seniors right now,” Dr. Rachel Hardeman, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, told the MSR. “They are an important part of this huge and complex issue.
“What we are seeing with seniors in nursing homes,” said Hardeman, “is that they are very isolated. You are seeing people going multiple weeks without seeing their family members and loved ones.”
U of M School of Public Health Assistant Professor Dr. Carrie Henning-Smith added that even seniors who live alone are being asked to stay home alone during the crisis, which Hardeman said increases loneliness as well.

“Older adults who are People of Color also tend to be dramatically” affected financially “as opposed to older adults who are White,” Hardeman said, adding that the health crisis will exacerbate existing disparities. “The economic fallout of COVID-19… will disproportionally impact Communities of Color, and older adults are vital and important members of those communities,” she said. “Older adults may have family members who are uninsured, who are essential workers and may have fallen ill with COVID-19. They might be at more risk because of any contact they may have with workers.”

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Professor Hardeman added that there has not been enough discussion on the impact that the COVID-19 crisis is having on pregnant women, especially as they near their delivery date. “We don’t know right now what the health implications may be for the health of the mom and baby. There are so many concerns around the potential of contracting COVID-19.”

Some expectant mothers are finding other ways to have out-of-hospital delivery “and choosing to find a midwife and have a home birth.” Some are using local birth centers including, Roots Community Birth Center in North Minneapolis, a Black-owned midwife-operated birth care center, explained Hardeman. But not everyone has such options available to them. “Not everyone has the privilege and the ability to opt-out and change to something else.”

“[The spread of the virus] is across the board, but we know that the risk of falling ill of COVID-19 are higher for People of Color (POC). That’s partly because they are more likely to be working at low-wage jobs,” said Henning-Smith.

“It is important to note that staffs of nursing homes and [those who] provide home health care are disproportionately People of Color and tend to be not paid a very generous salary,” Hardeman said. “We have people who are at risk financially who are being asked to go in and put their health and well-being at risk too, and they are interacting with older adults. This is pretty risky.”

“There are so many ways that this pandemic has creeped into different parts of our society and certainly impacted certain communities and populations more than others,” said Hardeman.