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A ticking time bomb: COVID-19's impact on Buffalo's Black community

Thomas O'Neil-White

Parts of the United States are showing a disproportionate number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths are of African Americans.

President Donald Trump weighed in on the topic during a recent White House press conference.

“We’re seeing tremendous evidence that African Americans are affected at a far greater percentage than other citizens of our country,” Trump said.

In Erie County, as of Wednesday afternoon, over 1,200 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, with 485 cases coming from the City of Buffalo. Within the Buffalo cases, an overwhelming number are coming from the 14215 zip code, which encompasses predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Due to systemic inequalities going back generations, neighborhoods on the East Side have alarmingly high rates of chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension and heart disease.

Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux is a registered nurse, a former legislature candidate and head of the Buffalo chapter of Black Lives Matter. She is currently on assignment in Santa Clara County, California, which had the second community case of coronavirus in the country. Martin-Bordeaux has concerns COVID-19 may devastate the East Side.

“What we have right now in Buffalo is a COVID bomb going off,” she said.

Martin-Bordeaux believes initial virus testing in the Erie County was backwards.

“Why did we focus on drive-up or testing sites in Amherst,” she said. “Rather than focusing them in high impacted communities in the City of Buffalo that are more likely to have our service workers.”

Martin-Bordeaux anticipates in two to three weeks the county will see a surge in positive cases.

“We’re already ahead of other counties that are three and four times our size,” she said. “We have over 900,000 people in Erie County, and we already have some of the worst testing statistics in our country.”

Earlier this week, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz refuted the assertion.

“There is no place that’s getting more tests than others because there’s an open test for a location,” he said. “I don’t want people to think we’re having walk-in testing in Amherst but not in Buffalo.”

But without a wealth of resources, some leaders in the Black community are doing their best to provide residents with pertinent information.    

On the ground in the Historic Fruit Belt neighborhood, registered nurse and Fruit Belt Land Trust Executive Director India Walton said a different approach is needed in a community that isn’t getting their info from the CDC or World Health Organization.

“We need community health workers and organizers and block club leaders to go out and knock on folks’ doors,” she said. “And maybe leave easy to read literature and offer all of the resources that we have.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, lead member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said during Tuesday’s White House press conference the virus is shedding light on systemic health problems in our country.

“We will get over coronavirus,” he said. “But there will still be health disparities which we really do need to address in the African American community.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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