“Money is not so important”: African-Americans in Georgia are wary of returning to work as COVID-19 wreaks havoc

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“Why are these hair salons? Bowling alleys? It’s a little strange. “

Kebbi Williams asked Georgia Governor Brian Kemp some specific questions about the reopening of non-core businesses in the state last week.

Georgia was one of the last states to impose a stay order and close non-essential businesses in early April to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, and is among the first to start lifting these restrictions.

As of Friday evening, the state had approximately 27,494 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the coronavirus disease, and 1,167 deaths. The seven-day moving average of new confirmed cases has been declining since April 20, according to the State Department of Health.

“I want the governor to relax and let this thing fly, and that everyone can go back to work, not just the front line, which is mainly black in this situation,” he said.

Williams is a Grammy-winning saxophone who runs a musical mentorship program for children in downtown Atlanta, which was suspended due to COVID-19.

Kebbi Williams, a Grammy winner, set up his musical mentorship program for inner-city kids because of COVID-19. (Katie Simpson / CBC)

He says he understands that people have to work to make ends meet, but is concerned that these same people may be placed in an unfair position in having to choose between being exposed to the new coronavirus and feeding their families.

In the United States, a higher proportion of African Americans and members of the Latinx community work in the service sector than other population groups, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a demographic breakdown of 2018 labor force statistics, it found that 24% of employed African Americans and 24% of Latin American workers worked in services, compared to 17% of Asian workers and 16% of employed workers. are identified as white.

WATCH | As Georgia begins to lift restrictions, some residents are concerned that it is too early to return to work:

The black population of Georgia has been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 epidemic and highlights health care and economic inequality in the state. 1:59

African Americans disproportionately affected by the pandemic

Kemp allowed certain sectors of the economy to reopen last Friday and lifted the order to set up a shelter on May 1 for everyone except the elderly and “medically fragile.”

Many of the businesses that have reopened, including hair and nail salons, restaurant dining rooms, movie theaters, gymnasiums, and bowling alleys, are service-based.

“We have a large number of black people who have the virus – why, why put us on the front line and open up? Williams wonders.

“He doesn’t seem to be thinking about us. “

Willie Edwards says he reopened his hair salon in Atlanta because otherwise he couldn’t pay his rent. (Katie Simpson / CBC)

Georgia is the last state for which data has been published showing that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by the new coronavirus.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published last Wednesday looked at eight hospitals in the state. Of the 300 patients who required hospitalization for COVID-19, more than 80% were African American.

African Americans make up about 30% of the Georgian population.

People exercise at Gold’s Gym in Augusta, Georgia. The gymnasiums were among the nonessential businesses allowed to reopen last week. (Maranie Staab / Reuters)

Small hard hit county

In Dougherty County, a rural community of approximately 90,000 people in the southwestern part of the state, of more than 120 deaths from COVID-19, 76% are African Americans, according to the country’s coroner , Michael Fowler.

“I know these people in our community, and that’s why I’m fighting for our community. I’m tired of going to zip up a body bag with someone I know, “said Fowler.

Dougherty County has the highest number of deaths in the state despite its small size and the fourth highest number of cases per 100,000 population.

Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler prepares to enter his small rural morgue. The community has experienced the highest number of deaths in the state of Georgia. (Yaz Johnson)

Fowler does not criticize Kemp and does not question his decision. But with his little morgue already full, he urges people in his community to stay at home.

“Money is not that important, you can replace the house you lose, the car you lose, your job, but you cannot replace life. Life is too precious, ”he said.

Governor Kemp backed up his decision at a press conference in Atlanta on Monday, citing historical unemployment figures following the pandemic.

“I just gave people the opportunity to reopen who were literally on the verge of losing everything they had,” he said. “These are difficult decisions. It was not a warrant. They don’t have to, but they have the opportunity. “

WATCH | Salons, restaurants and tattoo parlors are slowly resuming operations across Georgia:

Georgia allowed more non-essential businesses to open this week, which eased weeks of COVID-19 restrictions, but many customers have always chosen to stay away. 1:58

Access to health care a factor

Dear Salmon, who owns a nail salon in Atlanta, says she is thankful for the opportunity but prefers not to return to work.

“It really wasn’t a difficult decision, because like I said, I have no choice. I have to go to work. If there was a choice, I would always be closed, “she said.

The salmon is eight months pregnant. She applied for loans and grants in the hope that she could remain closed but was not eligible.

The pandemic is also drawing attention to the long-standing challenges that African Americans have faced in accessing health care in the United States, according to Mack Willis Senior, an executive with the Atlanta branch of the NAACP.

“It’s like someone walks up to the wall and turns on a light and exposes all of these disparities in health care,” he said.

Willis is currently recovering from COVID-19, as are his two adult sons.

Mack Willis Sr., pictured third from left with his family, is recovering from COVID-19 and says the pandemic has highlighted racial disparities in access to health care. (Mack Willis Sr.)

He wants this crisis to start a conversation on how to correct these disparities.

“It is an image that needs to be repainted, because there is something wrong. “

According to a December 2019 report from the Century Foundation, which describes itself as a non-partisan think tank, “the US health care system is plagued by inequalities that have a disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized groups” .

Although progress has been made since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the report says that “disparities still exist between health conditions when comparing Afro -Americans and whites, including maternal mortality, infant mortality, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health problems. ”

So far, this is just a “news band”

With COVID-19, “it looks like there is a racial divide,” said Mohammed Ali, family doctor and associate professor at the Faculty of Global Health at Emory University.

But he says more data needs to be collected before drawing firm conclusions.

“It’s not clear which drivers are going on, all we have is this strip of information that shows significant gaps,” said Ali.

“Traditionally, the African American and Hispanic experience in health care both to access it, to have insurance and … also to the way the health care provider treats you, these have always been very different.

A COVID-19 test site in Conyers, Ga. There are indications that the coronavirus has disproportionately affected black Americans, but there is still much to learn about why. (Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution / The Associated Press)

There is another factor at play here, says Ali.

“We think there is an association with obesity and there is a strong presence of obesity and diabetes in the African American population. “

In his view, the decision to reopen non-core businesses was premature.

He fears that already hard-hit communities will suffer more if the rules of physical distance are not followed precisely.

“I worry these communities have big flares, so we’re probably going to see wildfires in counties and postal codes that just can’t afford it. “

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