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Norfolk community leaders address racial disparities and coronavirus

'The COVID-19 issue that we have today is just piling onto a whole 400-year history of healthcare disparities for African-Americans.'

NORFOLK, Va. — No one is safe from the COVID-19 virus, but U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Tuesday that African-Americans are at a higher risk. He said big factors are preexisting conditions and lack of healthcare access.

In order to get a better understanding of this important issue, we spoke with community leaders in Norfolk about racial disparities they see in our area when it comes to facing this virus.

“The biggest issue is making sure that the communities are tested,” said NSU Dean Cassandra Newby-Alexander.

Alexander said statistically, racism is still a big part of African-American healthcare.

“The COVID-19 issue that we have today is just piling onto a whole 400-year history of healthcare disparities for African-Americans,” Alexander said.

New and limited data in a recent New York Times article shows most coronavirus deaths in places like Louisiana, Illinois, and Michigan, are among blacks.

“I’m not surprised,” said Love. “If you have the most health disparities, if you don’t have the income to take off of work…”

Love founded the Hampton Roads non-profit organization Teens With a Purpose. She worries if youths in the community will stay on track during the pandemic.

“The students don’t all have Chrome Books, so everybody doesn’t have the same access,” Love said. “That is a disparity that is creating a barrier for certain people.”

She works with her son Andre, who said the information gap concerns him most.

“In the black community when it comes to health, for whatever reason, it is really hard to pass along a lot of information,” Andre said. “Or, a lot of information given would be misinformation.”

Love said the CDC’s call for masks also struck a chord after she emailed teens to come help at the community garden with a bandana mask.

“I didn’t feel good about asking them to put a bandana across their face when that normally is not anything we would encourage,” Love said.

“They already have a stigma attached to it that people are scared of,” Andre said. “So, once you add that on top of there being a virus going around, it could potentially create a dangerous situation.”

Both are trying to lead young people through this time, by being the example.

“They see that we are taking it seriously enough that we have masks on, that we are wearing gloves,” Andre said.

Every day now brings new uncertainty. Alexander said people need to be treated equitably, not equally.

“Those in more need than others should get a greater level of attention and care, as opposed to giving it across the board like everyone has access to healthcare,” Alexander said.

The Teens With a Purpose organization is providing virtual resources and activities with daily zoom meetings. Visit their website for more information.

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