‘Wiping us out’: Community leaders concerned about COVID-19 affecting black communities

Special Report: Coronavirus racial disparities in S.C.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) -According to U.S. Census data, African Americans make up 27% of the South Carolina’s total population.

However, new data released from the South Carolina Department of Department of Health and Environmental Control shows 36% of positive COVID-19 cases in the state are black.

That demographic also makes up for more than half the state’s COVID-19 deaths at 57% compared to whites at 42%.

Several African-American activists and leaders are now worried, saying something needs to be done about the disproportionate affects in their communities.

Many are working with lawmakers and community members to change the outcome of what’s happening in minority communities across the state.

HOPE Church Pastor Joseph Washington said unfortunately he wasn’t that surprised when he heard the numbers.

“We have always known that whatever happens in this country that we (Africans Americans) get the worst end of it. In other words, when some people catch a cold, we get the flu,” said Washington.

But in this case, it’s COVID-19.

Joseph Washington, Pastor, HOPE ChurchW
Joseph Washington, Pastor, HOPE ChurchW (Source: WMBF)

Timothy McCray serves as the outreach coordinator for the South Carolina Commission of Minority Affairs. The New York native now lives in Horry County, but said back home more than 50 of his friends and family have died from COVID-19.

“A close friend of mine, his daughter, 32-years-old had a underlying issue with asthma. One week she went into the hospital, they said, ‘Well you have an asthma issue,' and they found out she had COVID. They sent her home; a week later she deceased," McCray said.

He added that’s the reason he’s now working hard in South Carolina to save lives.

The demographic numbers released by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control provide a glimpse of who’s dying from this illness.

Washington said earlier this month he was part of a conference with hundreds of other pastors across the country who are also addressing the issue in their communities. He noted the reason for the exorbitant numbers goes beyond the virus itself.

“It’s more than the coronavirus; it’s corona-economics, it’s corona-education, it’s corona-housing, it’s corona-food and lifestyle,” said Washington.

According to DHEC, black Americans are disproportionately impacted by some of the underlying conditions - asthma, heart disease, obesity, and kidney disease - that has impacted the severity of the virus.

Washington said in many black and brown communities, it’s hard to social distance.

“We might have the luxury of a single-family unit with a lot of rooms, but a lot of people don’t. They’re living in public housing, they’re living in small apartments where they are trying to etch out a life. But when we talk about social distancing it’s not too much they can do,” said Washington.

Washington feels the federal government should make health insurance readily available to people in lower income communities.

“Health care coverage should be available to the uninsured and the under insured," he said. "They should not restrict medicare and medicaid coverage.”

Washington said healthcare is just one of many racial inequalities that needs to be addressed to save lives. He added that to keep communities of color safe and healthy, lawmakers should protect the integrity of elections and eliminate voter suppression measures that could prevent minorities from voting.

“I think for us in South Carolina in particular and the United States, we have to look at what’s causing this. Why are we dying at such exorbitant rates? Why is it we are literally dying three to one of other Americans? And once we address those issues, the root issue of what causing us to die, I think you will have better outcomes in the future,” Washington said.

A new initiative is now happening statewide through the S.C. Commission of Minority Affairs.

“We’re working on a community partner action plan with hospitals, faith communities, business communities, government agencies, non-profit organizations, to talk about the prevention and the intervention,” McCray said.

McCray said in many communities of color, COVID-19 testing will be a need and healthcare will be essential when dealing with underlying issue, like high blood pressure and diabetes.

“So we take the data that we receive and we begin to go out into these communities and educate these communities," McCray said. "Here’s the information that we’re receiving with COVID-19 and talk about these steps of social distancing, washing your hands, and stay at home.”

Timothy McCray, Community Outreach Director, SC Commission of Minority Affairs
Timothy McCray, Community Outreach Director, SC Commission of Minority Affairs (Source: WMBF)

McCray said the Community Partners in Action plan will target communities throughout the state, as well as in Horry County.

“We took a partnership with Mr. Bennie Swans and other groups to look at how we can start this Community Partners in Action and begin to alert, advise, and educate," McCray stated.

In April, several state lawmakers asked Gov. Henry McMaster to create a task force to address the COVID-19 impacts in rural communities and communities of color. Civil rights organizations met with the governor April 27 to encourage him to do more to address the disparities.

Right now, community leaders are looking to the future to change the scope of the virus, but admit it’s going require a collective effort.

However, in the midst of this pandemic, Washington said hope should not be lost.

“If you look at our history as people of color, we’ve had some times that have been much worse than this coronavirus and we have survived," he said. "If God did it then, he can do it again. If he did it in the past, he can do it now and in the future. So this is not the first time we’ve been through trial and tribulations. I think that as a spiritual people, which we are, we have to remain faithful and diligent and know that God is in control of this, and if we continue to fast and pray we will get through this.”

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