America is fighting a racial as well as a viral pandemic

Paul Becker / Becker1999

Leadership Forum panelists foresee much hard work ahead

The COVID pandemic has disproportionally impacted Blacks more severely than any other segment of the U.S. population.

According to latest APM Research Lab data, one death in 1,625 Blacks (or 61.6 deaths per 100,000) has been recorded—higher than Whites (26.2 deaths), Asians (26.3 deaths), Latinos (28.2 deaths) and Native Americans (36.0 deaths). Also, the death rate among Blacks is higher by three times or more in six U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reports that 20 percent of COVID cases are among persons age 30 to 39 and 19 percent for persons 20 to 29. This largely disputes earlier information that only older persons get infected, although the highest death rate of state virus-related deaths is among persons age 80 to 89 (34 percent), and 26 percent of persons age 90 to 99.

Of over 1,300 COVID deaths in Minnesota, under 10 percent of the total, are Blacks.

Despite the pandemic, many people are more concerned about long-existing systemic racism than their personal health, judging from over three weeks of protests and demonstrations since George Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody.  At least 20 states have seen increases in COVID-19 confirmed cases, according to recent reports.  

“We expect these numbers to increase in leaps and bounds,” said Children’s Minnesota Infectious Prevention Nurse Adriene Thornton. She was part of a June 10 African American Leadership Forum four-person video panel discussion on the coronavirus impact on the Black community.

Thornton is concerned that the protesters for the most part aren’t practicing social distancing, which health officials strongly advise to help prevent spreading the virus. “We are still in the process of a pandemic,” said Thornton. “You need something to cover your mouth and your nose, and maintain a six-foot distance,” she stressed, adding that protesters should always have hand sanitizers and alcohol wipes with them. “You have to keep your hands clean.”

The Floyd death “has affected us all,” said Minnesota Community Care CEO Reuben Moore.  “This is very painful to me.”

Valerie Castile, Philando Castile’s mother, added, “What happened to Mr. Floyd was unacceptable.” Her son was killed in 2016 at age 32 during a traffic stop; the policeman later was charged but acquitted in a jury trial. “You need to go to jail if you murder someone,” she stated, adding the four former Minneapolis police officers treated Floyd “like a prized trophy.”

It is important to help children understand what is happening as well as how to stay healthy, Hennepin County Therapist Zadok Nampala advised. “Our kids have a lot of questions in their mind,” he said, urging parents to stay “on standby mode” for their children. “You have to have age-appropriate discussions with your child,” said Nampala, reassuring them that they are safe and protected.

America is in “a racial pandemic” as well as a viral one, said Dr. Joi Lewis, who owns a local wellness business. “Our humanity is on the line, and they are killing us. This is not a movie.  This is real life.”

“I’m hopeful as a Black woman and a single mother,” said Thornton. “I don’t know what to do to keep my kids safe. I am concerned [about COVID].”

“We have to do better as a civilization,” said Castile, who since Philando’s death has started a nonprofit foundation in her son’s name. “My son was big on community and families,” she said. “I have been working tirelessly” in meeting with families with slain family members. “It is a lot of work we have to do. It’s all about giving back to the community.”

The panelists all agreed that change is needed to address pre-COVID racial inequities.

“There is a lot of work to be done in the state of Minnesota,” said Castile. “It’s bad here.”

“We have to work on system change,” Moore said on corporations and other organizations. “You have to take a bold stand. We need to adopt anti-racism policies.”

He also decried “liberal racism,” calling it “very unique, so disguised and intelligent. You have to create a dialogue to have change.”

“I’m excited about our young people,” Thornton said. “I love the passion. Hopefully things will get better.”