For the past few weeks, as COVID-19 spreads throughout the world and the United States, a rumor has also persisted in the black community: that we are more resistant to the novel coronavirus.
We are learning more about the coronavirus every day, but let me tell you this in no uncertain terms: It doesn’t care if you are black, brown, white, red, yellow or some other shade. The idea that African Americans are somehow resistant to it is both untrue and dangerous to the health of our community.
Many of the pre-existing conditions that make the coronavirus more dangerous for some people — like heart conditions and diabetes — disproportionately affect the black community. This is why everyone in the City of St. Louis — especially African Americans — must take precautions against spreading this disease.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light what many healthcare providers in the St. Louis region already know: the communities with the highest health disparities and lack of access to health care will be hit the hardest by COVID-19.
In fact, as of April 8, all 12 COVID-19 deaths in the City of St. Louis were African Americans.
At the City of St. Louis Health Department, we have one job: protecting the physical and mental wellbeing of our residents. Part of this is ensuring as many residents as possible have access to testing, which is a key component in tracking and slowing the spread of the disease. Obviously, for many of us in the black community, this access is more easily said than done.
This week, CareSTL Health opened its second appointment-only COVID-19 testing site in North St. Louis, at 2425 N. Whittier St., near Homer G Phillips Senior Apartments. It also provides testing at the 5471 Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. location. On April 2, Affinia Healthcare opened the city’s first mobile testing site, at 1717 Biddle St., at no cost to patients. Registration by phone is required prior to arriving.
Because we know we can’t treat the disease or prevent its spread without testing, the Department of Health has played a key role in getting supplies to these testing centers. We will continue to do so on behalf of the residents of the City of St. Louis.
Many of us have been impacted very hard and very fast during this time. Closing schools has been hard on many, especially for those who rely upon school for meals. Many children are home-schooling while their parents go to work. We also know that many businesses have closed and some folks are no longer receiving a regular paycheck, or their paychecks have been reduced, because of this pandemic.
All of these closings are about saving lives through a global strategy called “flattening the curve.” When a disease causes millions to get sick at one time, the total number or curve grows higher and higher. But if we can practice social distancing — keeping people at home and healthy, away from those with the virus and allow them to recover — the curve, or number of folks who have it, flattens and there is a lower chance others get sick. We’re basically trying to starve out the disease by reducing transmission.
In the meantime, the City of St. Louis is working to give you tools to carry on during these unusual times and connecting residents with agencies that provide financial assistance and other services. St. Louis Public Schools are also offering to-go meals for children several times a day, and both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County have issued orders to halt evictions until April 22.
We can’t flatten the curve without you. Here’s how you can join the fight:
● Avoid being exposed to this virus by following the stay-at-home orders enacted in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. If you do not have to go to work, only leave the house for essentials such as groceries and medication, Cover your nose and mouth with a face mask, if possible.
● Be socially distant. Maintain a 6-foot distance from others in public.
● Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
● Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
● If you experience symptoms, get tested as soon as possible and isolate yourself from others.
Care for children
● Talk with your children about what’s happening. This is a confusing time for grownups, as well as kids. Be calm and reassuring.
● Consider limiting the amount of information about COVID-19 because too much can lead to anxiety.
● Remind kids to stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing or sick.
● Teach children to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash.
● Teach proper handwashing habits.
Check on elders
● Call, Facetime or reach out to those in your life who are 65 or older. Isolation can adversely affect the health of our elders.
● Make sure those 65 and older take the same general precautions of staying home as much as possible, washing their hands often and maintaining a 6-foot distance with others in public.
● Encourage them to avoid all non-essential travel.
● Make sure they know to call a healthcare professional with any COVID-19 concerns or if they become sick.
We must all work together like never before. Our own personal choices can mean life or death for our loved ones.
Dr. Fredrick Echols is the director of the City of St. Louis Department of Health. Visit stlouis-mo.gov for updates on the City of St. Louis’ response to COVID-19, including information about picking up to-go meals through SLPS.