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Black, Hispanic residents disproportionately affected by coronavirus, data shows

Across the country, Black and Hispanic residents have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This includes people of color who reside in Stanly County.

In the county, Black residents, who make up 11 percent of the county’s population, account for 31 percent of infections, according to state Health and Human Services data, while Hispanic residents, who make up 4 percent of the population, account for 20 percent of infections.

Since Hispanics are regarded as an ethnicity and not a race, people who identify as Hispanic are also listed as white. White residents therefore account for 65 percent of infections, though white, non-Hispanics make up almost 85 percent of the county’s population.

The data does have significant missing demographic data, including 110 cases with no known race and 182 cases with no known ethnicity.

When examining state data, the discrepancies still exist, especially with Hispanic residents, who make up 10 percent of the population and account for 43 percent of infections. Black residents, who make up 22 percent of the state population, account for 24 percent of injections.

As of Friday, Stanly County has more than 620 reported coronavirus cases and eight deaths.

“The minority population in Stanly County is impacted so much by so many health problems,” said Garry Lewis, chairman of the Stanly County Minority Health Council, in a recent interview with the Mary and Martha Center for Women and Community Care.

He said that it’s these underlying health conditions (cancer, diabetes, heart disease) that can make people more susceptible to severe illness from the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains on its website that among some racial and ethnic minority groups, including Black and Hispanic people, “evidence points to higher rates of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 than among non-Hispanic white persons.”

The county’s minority health council is comprised of Black, Hispanic, Asian and white residents who meet monthly with the health department to discuss health issues within the minority population in the county.

It was formed in 2014 “in recognition of the need to gain wider community support for addressing issues of health and community disparities and inequities, particularly in underserved communities,” according to information from a council brochure.

The main factor behind minority groups being disproportionately impacted by the virus is because many of them are essential workers who either cannot afford to stay home or have no ability to work from home, said Gus Vanegas, vice chairman of the Stanly County Minority Health Council.

Other factors that account for the health inequities include where people live in the county and how much money they make as well as negative racial attitudes that people may still harbor, Lewis said.

“We work to try and meet everybody’s needs and I think we’re doing the best job we can as far as testing and identifying that segment of the population at this time,” Stanly County Health and Human Services Director David Jenkins said.

Vanegas said he is also concerned that some people are ignoring state guidelines, such as wearing masks, which help reduce the spread of the virus.

“This is serious and this is a real condition,” Vanegas said about the coronavirus. “This is not about your rights being taken away, it’s about being educated and respectful with other people.”

While minority groups are more likely to be impacted by the virus, research has shown that they are also more likely to wear masks. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center of more than 9,600 people found that 87 percent of Hispanic respondents and 86 percent of Black respondents reported wearing masks in stores at least some of the time, compared to 78 percent of whites.

Lewis, who at 65 is more at risk of severe illness from the virus than younger people, worries about getting infected and so he wears a mask whenever he is out in public with others.

He said since Stanly County is a bedroom community about an hour outside Charlotte, which is the epicenter of the pandemic in North Carolina with more than 15,000 cases, some residents have let their guard down, not thinking the virus would become a problem in the county.

“This is something that has no respect of who you are or where you are,” Lewis said, adding that “this is an invisible virus and we just have to take it seriously.”

Lewis said more information about the virus, including ways to mitigate its spread, is needed — especially since cases have been increasing with each passing week in Stanly. For people who might not have access to the SNAP or the radio to stay informed, he said key information can be distributed at public gathering places like barbershops, schools and grocery stores.

“We don’t want people to be depressed, but the information needs to be made available,” Lewis said.

Residents in the county are ultimately interconnected with one another, regardless of race or any other demographic markers.

“I’ve lived long enough to know that I need you and you need me and that’s what we got to understand,” Lewis said.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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