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Mortality rates down for Blacks in Erie County, still not out of the woods

Thomas O'Neil-White/WBFO file photo
Betty Jean Grant and her daughter give free personal protective equipment to Buffalo's East Side residents last month.

The death rate among Erie County’s African American population due to COVID-19 is going down, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz. 

Credit Erie County Department of Health

Poloncarz made the comment Wednesday while touting a decrease in hospitalizations over a two-week period ending May 25.

Data from the early weeks of the pandemic showed neighborhoods in Buffalo’s predominantly Black East Side, specifically the 14215 zip code, were hot spots for the virus due to the high rates of chronic illnesses of its residents. Poloncarz said the coronavirus mortality rate continues to trend downward.

“For a while there African Americans made up nearly 33% of all deaths,” he said. “Which was ridiculous considering they make up less than 15% of the population of our county.”

Poloncarz commended said the work done by healthcare providers to open up testing sites on the East Side, and the work of the African American Health Equity Task Force for spreading virus information throughout the community.

Task Force Member Reverend George Nicholas said the collaborative effort, which also includes physicians, churches and community activists, is producing positive results.

Credit Chris Caya / WBFO News
Pastor George Nicholas of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church.

“It’s what we’ve done as a collective,” he said. “This is a case study of can happen in this community when people work together.”

Nicholas said, initially, getting the County Executive to get on board with community stakeholders to address the potential problems the virus could pose on the Blacks on the East Side took some convincing.

“He recognized there are partners in this community that are willing to work with his office and his administration for the good of the community,” he said. “And he responded, and he responded well. Playing the role of Executive and letting the people who know what they’re doing do the work, and then making connections to people who can help them do their work even better.”

Nicholas insisted this is not the end of the story and the work needs to continue. He worries the reopening of business in the state is premature.

“We have things going in the right direction,” he said. “Let’s keep doing the things we are doing and not put ourselves in a situation where we move back to a place that we were six or seven weeks ago.”

Nicholas said the African American Health Disparities Task Force is distributing literature this weekend reminding the community it is still not out of the woods when it comes to COVID-19, and to continue to practice the plans previously put in place by the Department of Health.

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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