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COVID cases nearly 3 times higher for people of color

Mike Desmond / WBFO News
A screenshot from Thursday's virtual discussion about COVID-19.

While a lot of people are becoming ill — and sometimes very ill — from COVID-19, it continues to disproportionately hit minority groups, many of whom fall into the "essential worker" category, which means they have to go to work in reality, not virtually.

Many minority group members have what doctors call co-morbidity. An "underlying condition" is the term generally used by others to describe health issues that are present before the virus surfaces. These can be things as basic as high blood pressure or circulatory problems.

These essential workers may work in fields, with high exposure to COVID or perhaps a job without enough PPE for safety.

The issues of COVID were the focus of Thursday night's webinar from the Buffalo Chapter of The Links. Dr. Raul Vazquez said people have to work to improve their own health and chances, like by getting a flu shot.

"Half of you have not gotten your flu shot. This year, it's so important. I don't care if you've taken it in the past and it made you a little sick and you don't like that and you're okay with the flu," Vazquez said, " 'cause 45,000-65,000 people die of the flu and if you get COVID and flu, that's a double whammy. The likelihood is you're going to have a really rough time and maybe not see 2021."

Asked about racial disparities in catching the disease, University at Buffalo pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Oscar Gomez said the disparities are very clear.

"Between White people and Native Americans, we can see the number of cases is 2.8 times higher for this population. It's 2.6 higher for African Americans and it's 2.8 higher for Hispanics, compared to White people," Gomez said.

Credit Erie County Department of Health

Millennium Collaborative Care Chair Pastor Kinzer Pointer said getting tested is really important for health and mental health.

"It's about your intellect, your piece of mind. It's about making decisions about things that you need to to do avoid doing. It's about isolating yourself and isolating the members of your family so that you would do the greatest work at keeping other people from being infected," Pointer said.

Other speakers, including Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein told the participants flu shots are even more important as the local COVID cases are rising rapidly. She said basic measures like masks, hand-washing and social distancing are also just as important as when the pandemic started.

Later, she issued a statement, adding isolation and quarantine to the list of measures to "break the chain of transmission in the community. Burstein said Erie County is seeing evidence of "uncontrolled community transmission."

"Erie County Department of Health contact tracers are working through a caseload that can only be described as crushing," Burstein said. "Our epidemiology team has added staff and shared some contact tracing tasks with the New York State Department of Health. But even with that, there is a delay between when some people find out they have a positive COVID test result, when we can call them to explain isolation and when we can notify their close contacts of the need to quarantine.”

WBFO's Marian Hetherly contributed to this story.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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