African American Health Equity Task Force Calls for Immediate Action to Address COVID-19 Impact on County’s African American Population

The African American Health Equity Task Force is calling for public health leaders and elected officials to  invest resources in the most vulnerable communities during  the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement was made by Task Force co-conveners Pastor George Nicholas, MDiv, Senior Pastor, Lincoln Memorial United Methodist, and Kinzer M. Pointer, MCM, Pastor, Agape Fellowship Baptist Church. They  released the following statement: 

“People with heart disease, lung disease such as asthma, and underlying illnesses including diabetes are at high risk for serious disease from COVID-19. African American residents of Erie County have nearly five times the rate of asthma compared to White residents; 50% higher rate of hospitalizations for heart disease; and 250% higher rate of hospitalization for diabetes compared to Whites. 

“Thus, investing in regions like the East Side of Buffalo, a predominantly African American community, is investing in populations that are most vulnerable to serious COVID-19 disease and most likely to need hospitalization. This approach will   benefit our entire community.

In order to accomplish response and prevention goals, the African American Health Equity Task Force is calling for:

   •The development of an action plan to provide testing for COVID-19 in accessible locations within the African American community, i.e. local vacant schools that are spacious and located within the neighborhood .  “So few tests for COVID-19 infection have been performed on East Side residents that there is little or no data upon which to rely to make strategic investments. Erie County has the lowest rate of COVID-19 tests performed per capita of all urban counties in the state   and only a proportion of these tests have been performed on residents of the City of Buffalo, “ the statement continued.

•The inclusion of African American health professionals in the planning and execution of a testing and treatment program such as Dr. Willie Underwood, Dr. Raul Vazquez, Dr. Kenneth Gayles and others.

•The development of a robust community public information campaign targeted at the African-American community to provide clear, accurate information on how to slow the spread of the virus, how to recognize the symptoms and what to do if you are ill.

“In times of crisis, the everyday struggles of under-developed communities are only amplified. Over the last six years, the African American Health Equity Task Force has clearly documented the dramatic health disparities for African Americans living in Erie County,” said Pastor   Nicholas. “It is essential that the African-American community, which is already in the midst of a health crisis prior to this pandemic, be provided adequate attention and resources to prevent the spread of the virus in our community.”

The task force also pointed out that many  African Americans work in frontline positions that increase their exposure to COVID-19 in addition to their increased health vulnerabilities. In  the African American community  fewer than one in five Black Americans are able to work from home.  This means Black Buffalonians are at higher risk for contracting coronavirus and are likely faced with a choice to risk infection for a paycheck or protect their families and go without pay or even lose their jobs. 40% of African Americans are living in poverty. 

The  Task Force urges   personal protective equipment be provided  for frontline workers in health care and other businesses that have contact with high numbers of people as well as increase COVID-19 testing for health care workers and frontline workers. They are also urging  businesses and hospitals to pay all workers required to work at this time hazard pay of at least $15 per hour.

“We want to make sure that a community that has been historically overlooked does not get left out during this very serious crisis,” added  Pastor   Pointer. “Finally, we are not seeking to hoard resources from other communities, but we do want to ensure that our community gets the proper attention and investment so that there is equity to safety and health in the City of Good Neighbors.”