Austin Public Health discusses COVID-19 concerns among communities of color


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health hosted a virtual forum Saturday in response to data that shows COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color.

“Together Against COVID-19: A Multilingual Conversation,” featured discussion of how officials can help to improve health outcomes among vulnerable populations.

Data from March and April in Austin and Travis County showed that the COVID-19 hospitalization rate was 18% for African Americans and 17% for Latinos and Latinas, compared to just 12% for white, non-Hispanic people.

The COVID-19 fatality rate during that time was 5.4% for African Americans. It was just 1.9% for white, non-Hispanic people and 1.6% for Latinos and Latinas.

“When we look at our Asian American community and our white, non-Hispanic community, their rates of hospitalization are less than their representation in the community,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said in Saturday’s forum. “When we look at our Hispanic and African American, it’s reversed.” 

Escott explained in the community forum that health inequalities and other factors make minorities more vulnerable during the pandemic. He says people of color often have higher rates of underlying conditions like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, often making their cases of COVID-19 more serious. He says minority communities also often have more multigenerational households, with more people spreading the virus when one family member gets sick.

In the forum, Austin Mayor Steve Adler also highlighted ways 
in which systemic racism plays a role.

“Our neighbors of color are overrepresented among those that were the first that have to go back to work,” Adler said. “They are our essential and economic first responders, put on the frontlines just like our health care workers. The city puts them and their families at greater risk, and now, because of all those factors we see that our Black and LatinX neighbors are getting sick and they are being hospitalized and they are dying at faster rates than whites in our community. We must do everything that we can to slow transmission and to keep our neighbors safe.”

Austin Public Health is working to soften the financial blow, partnering with organizations that can connect people to help with food and basic needs through the pandemic. It’s also in the process of setting up a public health fund.

“This particular fund will provide assistance to individuals that must have help that do not have a salary to continue their basic needs,” said Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden.

The City of Austin is also encouraging people in minority communities to take advantage of isolation facilities if they get the virus and not to fall behind on regular medical care for underlying conditions.

Mayor Adler, adding it will take continued conversation to see change, said, “The city is going to continue to listen and to learn.”

Next Saturday, July 18, the city of Austin will hold another virtual community forum, specifically focusing on how COVID-19 is impacting the African American community.

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