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Florida Matters: How Coronavirus Is Affecting The Black Community


Many studies are showing the coronavirus has sickened and killed black Americans at a disproportionately high rate. One study found that the 22 percent of U.S. counties that are majority black account for nearly half of coronavirus cases - and almost 60 percent of deaths from Covid-19.

The coronavirus has also disproportionately impacted jobs held and businesses owned by black people. A University of South Florida/Nielsen study shows that African-Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites to have had their hours cut or have been laid off due to the pandemic.

Florida Matters talks with Kevin Sneed, dean of the USF Health Taneja College of Pharmacy; and Joshua Scacco, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida who helps conduct their annual Sunshine Survey.

Here's an excerpt of Florida Matters' Steve Newborn's interview with Dr. Kevin Sneed:

It seems like the cards are stacked against African-Americans to begin with - the fact that many do not have health insurance, they have jobs where they're forced to actually go into work. And they're in the front lines. So do you think African-Americans are maybe uniquely at risk for picking this up again, if the pandemic comes back again?

There is little doubt, there should be no doubt as a matter of fact, that health inequity has existed for many decades in our country. Not too long ago, I wrote a national piece that really kind of alluded to the fact that we have an opportunity right now knowing how bad the effects can be from being affected with the novel Coronavirus on people of color.

CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida

And we have an opportunity to begin to have a serious discussion about how do we more significantly improve healthcare access for people in these communities. How do we more significantly address just a decades-old discriminate pattern of lack of access to healthcare and health insurance. And if we let this opportunity pass by then, you know, shame on all of us in this country.

Dr. Kevin Sneed
Credit University of South Florida
Dr. Kevin Sneed

One of the things that I clearly wrote in that piece about a month ago was the fact that everybody deserves the right to pursuit of happiness in this country and African-Americans, LatinX communities, they're working up and they're working very hard for a lot of people and they want to enjoy life and they want to enjoy their families. And, and so as we approach the fall, knowing that these are issues, I think more emphasis should be put on prevention for people that fall into the essential work category. We need to put far more emphasis on PPE’s. And some of these environments were individuals that are deemed essential in working in higher-risk areas. And all of this is within the purview and opportunity for our elected officials, to be perfectly honest.

Health inequities have existed for a long time. And there are calls to public health and public health officials all across not only the state of Florida but across the country are really focused on trying to overcome some of these health inequities number one, and then number two, we really need to begin to prepare for the potential for a return and an increase in Coronavirus infections here in the fall.

In the meantime, we'll be hoping for that vaccine comes through hopefully, if not this year, next.

Well, we're going to have to endure the winter. I think there could be an opportunity that some vaccines may become available in the first quarter of next year in 2021. And we'll see how that unfolds. And I've already kind of put the word out that when these vaccines become available, we're working with an organization called Reach Up, here in Tampa Bay. And I've already contacted some people who are associated with the vaccine trials and to another organization that I'm the executive director for, known as We Care. We are trying to make sure that vaccine trials make it into the African-American and LatinX, Asian, Indian, and native Indian communities as well, just to make sure that there's equity of use for testing and these vaccines that may come out.

Joshua Scacco is an assistant professor at the University of South Florida who conducts the annual USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey.

Here's some of their findings:

Florida households have been hard hit by the economic slowdown. Two-thirds of individuals surveyed indicate at least some level of income loss or work disruption. More than a quarter of households (26.6%) have had their hours cut at work since the start of the pandemic, while 17.9% have experienced a temporary furlough, 13.4% have had their pay/wages cut, and 11.7% have had a member of the household laid off.

Economic anxiety is high among Floridians. More than 60% of Floridians reported that they are concerned about their ability to meet their financial obligations over the next three months as a result of the COVID-19 situation.

Many were caught off guard by the pandemic. A third of survey respondents (33.8%) indicated that they were not financially prepared for this situation.

Minority communities face disproportionate impacts. African Americans are significantly more likely than whites to have had their hours cut (40.4% vs. 23.2%), had their pay cut (21.2% vs. 11.4%), been laid off (18.2% vs. 10.1%), and filed for unemployment (26.3% vs. 13.1%). Hispanics were twice as likely to report being laid off than non-Hispanics (18.4% vs. 9.4%). Both African Americans and Hispanics were significantly more likely to express concerns about their ability to meet their financial obligations over the next three months.

Low-income Floridians face the brunt of economic downturn. Those in the lowest income brackets are significantly more likely to have been laid off, while also being significantly less likely to report being financially prepared for the situation.

Here's an excerpt of our conversation with Joshua Scacco:

Your findings aren’t entirely unsurprising. This looks like you're saying it's societal impacts. It's something has been building for a long time and everything just came to a head all at once.

This is disheartening. And as a researcher, you oftentimes have some expectations of what you might find. And what we see here is that the effects that are being disproportionately shouldered and the widespread anxiety that exists is something that will influence how Florida recovers from this. So that is something that we all need to recognize, and policymakers will need to carefully consider that if we think about the experiences here that we're seeing in the survey, we need to understand and center those experiences and if we're really cognizant about the long-term implications, but also how we got here as a society, then paying careful attention to these particular figures, and not just addressing overall impacts. But also the disproportionate impacts being felt will be particularly important.

Joshua Scacco
Credit University of South Florida
Joshua Scacco

A lot of the people that you talk to who have been particularly impacted by this are considered frontline workers. They cannot telecommute. They have to actually go out there and go face to face with people and be in the front lines so to speak. They don't really have a choice, right?

I think we need to think about this as the structural factors in society. Ultimately, what happens in a crisis situation is that many of these disparities are heightened. That the work-vulnerable become ever more vulnerable in a crisis. The health-vulnerable become ever more vulnerable. I think of this as a political communication researcher, in terms of the messaging around this, that we are all in this together. And what we see is that while we all are in this together, that the effects are not being universally felt.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.