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African Americans disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Richmond

Posted at 5:03 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 18:56:52-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Like cities in other parts of the country experiencing much larger outbreaks of COVID-19, Richmond Health leaders said African Americans are experiencing a much higher rate of infection than any other population.

Of the more than 160 confirmed cases in Richmond, 62% are African American, 24% white, and a small percentage are Hispanic or multi-racial, according to newly collected racial and ethic data specific to cases in Richmond. Dr. Danny Avula, Director of the Richmond/Henrico Health District, said race was not reported in about 10% of positive cases so far.

“Deaggregating the COVID-19 case information gives us a clearer picture of which members of our community are most impacted and helps inform our strategy to combat the disease,” Dr. Avula said.

“Just because you’re black or brown doesn’t mean you’re going to get COVID-19. Now, what we have to understand is, if you do contract it and you’re black or brown and have underlying medical conditions, it could lead to your death,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said during a Tuesday afternoon press briefing.

Richmond’s total case count is lower than their more populous, geographically larger counties that boarder the city. As of Tuesday, Chesterfield reports 241 cases, and Henrico is reporting 432, according to VDH data.

Dr. Avula said part of the discrepancy in numbers could be access to testing in communities that are underserved, neighborhoods in the city where health insurance gaps exist and access to medical care more limited.

“We’ve also recognized the inequities in access to testing,” Dr. Avula said.

To that end, starting next week health leaders plan to begin walk-up testing sites in specific communities. Similar to the drive thru testing locations that took place in some parks around the Richmond Metro last month, residents of specific communities will be screened by medical professionals and then tested if the person displays symptoms.

“Because we don’t have unlimited testing, we’d really like to focus on symptomatic individuals or individuals who have come into contact with confirmed cases,” Dr. Avula said. “Our goal is to do one testing event a day in underserved communities across the region and to test somewhere from 100-150 residents.”

RRHA Resource Centers in both Richmond and Henrico will serve as the initial locations, according to city leaders. Health officials said they plan to prioritize testing at long-term care facilities as well.

Dr. Avula asked for volunteers to apply through the Medical Reserve Corp to help administer tests.

The peak of infection in Central Virginia is likely weeks away, or longer, according to projections. Mayor Stoney said closures, restrictions, and social distancing guidelines will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“We are on the front end of this roller coaster ride. We haven’t gone down. We haven’t reached the apex, and we haven’t gone down the hill yet. That means we have to be even more vigilant,” Stoney explained.

“The important reminder is that there is still a back end of this curve, right. If it takes us two plus months to get to that peak, it’s going to take us just as long or longer to get to the other side,” Avula said.

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras updated the coronavirus response by RPS, as well. Kamras said they continue to distribute approximately 13,000 meals daily, Monday through Friday. The district has received more than 12,000 requests from families who do not have access to the internet, limiting students’ ability to participate in virtual lessons.

“I think the biggest challenge right now is getting all the computers configured for home use. The partner that we work with is obviously stretched very thin at this time, given all the demand. They’re working as fast as they possibly can, and as soon as the computers are ready, we’re getting them out to kids,” Kamras said.

“Though our buildings are closed, our hearts remain open,” he said in a message directly to RPS students. “We’re here to support you any way we possibly can. We love you very, very much, and we will be here for you throughout the pandemic.”

RPS families can find out more COVID-19 resources, click here.