More than 28 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began last March. Yet there are clear differences in coronavirus survival rates among ethnic groups. The Black community has been hit the hardest, with a death rate of 155.2 per 100,000 people, compared to 119.5 for Latinx people, 75.8 for Asians, and 120.9 for whites.
On top of the pandemic, people of color are burdened by racism and police brutality that often doesn't lead to justice. Black and brown medical professionals go home after their shifts hoping that they or their families don't contract the coronavirus, and they hope for the best outcomes for their patients. But they know that, despite their essential status, they are more likely to be profiled or have a fatal encounter with a police officer.
Five medical professionals of color across America shared their concerns with Health, and how they're helping their patients fight the virus while fighting for respect within their workplaces. (These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Gail Menezes, trauma ICU registered nurse, Ocala, Florida
Gail Menezes are being highlighted, and more Black people are dying than other races. I see a population that was already struggling in a vulnerable state. I feel helpless. I can take care of my patients in the ER, but I can't go with them out into their community to care for and protect them personally. I feel like I'm fighting an uphill battle, but it is an honor to provide quality care and identify with their backgrounds.
It has been heart-wrenching to see our community with disproportionate deaths and poor outcomes as a result of this pandemic. I work every day to bring this truth to light, warn our community about the seriousness of this virus, and push our hospital systems and government agencies to direct resources to the communities that have been overlooked for too long.
Courtney Melvin, registered nurse, Willingboro, New Jersey
Shiza Tanveer, ER technician, Baltimore
Rebekah Fenton, MD, adolescent medicine fellow, Chicago
Rebekah Fenton may get sick and experience complications. I had to sort through my own emotions before I could participate in mobile testing for COVID, balancing the benefit of helping the community with the risk of potentially exposing my Black husband. The same structural racism that affects my interactions with police also impacts the experiences of communities of color in this pandemic.
Luckily, I can say that, in my line of work, I feel respected. My division does not have the same track record of focusing on health equity that they do on other topics. Advocating for it can be hard when many don't see how it works, and I hope to change that. As a pediatrician, I'm working with a group of doctors who care for youth to amplify youth voices and work to end the $33 million contract that Chicago police has with the public school district. Students should feel safe at school and have access to resources that help them thrive. I'm combatting the racism that my patients face by trying to make a difference.
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