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Faith in Action Alabama: Underfunding health programs contributed to COVID-19 racial disparities

3d rendered Virus in red Blood Stream cell in black background. Coronavirus concept resposible for asian flu outbreak and coronaviruses influenza as dangerous flu strain cases as a pandemic.

As of Tuesday morning, 23,664 Americans have died from COVID-19. While people of all races get and die of COVID-19, the mortality rate among black people is alarmingly high.

In Alabama, black people are only 27 percent of the population but 54 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. This is not just a statistical anomaly for Alabama. In Louisiana, where 884 people have died, 70 percent of the deaths are black. In Michigan, where black people are only 14 percent of the population, they are 52 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. In Maryland they are 30 percent of the population; but 53 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. In Illinois black people are only 14 percent of the population but are 46 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. This is repeated in many states.

Onoyemi Williams is a Peacemaker Community Organizer for Faith in Action Alabama.

Williams is blaming the systems that have created the disproportionate impact of the COVID-10 pandemic, not just in Alabama, but nationwide. Williams blames decades of underfunding programs that build healthy communities for having left cities like Detroit and Chicago with death tolls in the black community at disproportionately higher rates.

“Currently in our country and in my city the population that is plagued with a litany of social, economic and health disparities are being swallowed up alive by the COVID-19 Pandemic,” said Onoyemi Williams. “Three weeks after drive-thru testing was conducted in other communities, testing is just now starting to appear in our community if you are able to get an appointment.”

“Exposure to the virus is extremely high in communities of color as many of those still working are on the front lines, outside of healthcare, work in the grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants and delivery services,” added Williams. “They are unable to isolate at home due to the dynamics of life prior to the pandemic as a family unit that was living on the fringes. There was no internet access prior to the outbreak, no computers for home schooling and there definitely aren’t any streaming services to help occupy idle time. Black men in the community, for whom life expectancy is the lowest, are once again being treated like unfortunate casualties with no extraordinary measures being taken to protect them. Many are resolved to this pandemic in my community, stating that if the virus doesn’t kill them poverty or gun violence will.”

“The racial disparities that are being reflected in the times of this crisis are appalling,” said Faith in Action Executive Director Rev. Alvin Herring. “No person is immune from contacting COVID-19, yet those who need to be protected most are people who can’t afford to take a day off to watch their children because they need to feed them, and certainly can’t afford to self-quarantine for two weeks. As people of faith and common sense, we know that everyone must be included in the protections and support that are being enacted if we are to slow the spread of this disease and save our people.”

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Friday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams addressed the higher COVID-19 rates among the black and Latino communities.

Adams told the groups to “step it up” and follow social distancing and hand-washing guidelines as well as to, “Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. And call your friends and family. Check in on your mother; she wants to hear from you right now.”

“And speaking of mothers, we need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela,” Adams said. “Do it for your granddaddy. Do it for your Big Mama. Do it for your Pop-Pop. We need you to understand — especially in communities of color, we need you to step up and help stop the spread so that we can protect those who are most vulnerable.”

Adams also noted that many minorities hold jobs like dishwasher where it is impossible to telework.

Adams noted that there are higher rates of blood pressure problems and asthma among minorities and held up a rescue inhaler that he said that he has been carrying for forty years. Adams is Black.

Conditions like asthma, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease tend to be higher among the black community and these conditions greatly increase the mortality of COVID-19 patients.

Faith in Action Alabama, a federation of Faith in Action, is calling for combating the systems that cause this, with “Fight for Fifteen” efforts across the country to paid sick leave – issues they say have become more critical amid the pandemic.

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On Easter Sunday Faith in Action joined Catholic bishops and other community and religious organizations in voicing their support of Pope Francis’s call for the world to consider a universal basic wage that would acknowledge and dignify the “noble and essential” work carried out by workers who struggle to put food on their tables.

FIA’s campaign is dedicated to ending mass incarceration and gun violence. To combat the COVID-19 plague they have launched Masks for the People, a humanitarian effort to bring free masks and hand sanitizer kits to vulnerable black and brown neighborhoods.

Faith in Action was formerly known as PICO National Network. FIA is the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. The nonpartisan organization works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 46 local and state federations. For more information, visit Faith in Action is a 501c(3). Faith in Action and its affiliates are non-partisan and are not aligned explicitly or implicitly with any candidate or party. We do not endorse or support candidates for office.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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