The leading voice on the White House Coronavirus Task Force says the surge in cases of coronavirus in the African American community reminds him of the challenges the LGBTQ community faced during the spread of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, played a crucial role in the government’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis and has watched the epidemic go from the days of no treatment to when antiretroviral medicines became commonly used. According to TheBodyPro.com, Dr. Fauci “gave activists and people living with HIV seats at the table of the planning committee of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG).” The result, the site says, was that “federal health bureaucrats acceded almost fully to community and activist demands.”
During Tuesday’s White House press conference, Dr. Fauci drew a comparison between the HIV/AIDS crisis and the way systemic racism is manifesting with the coronavirus pandemic. “I couldn’t help sitting there reflecting about sometimes when you’re in the middle of a crisis, like we are now with the coronavirus, it really does … ultimately shine a very bright light on some of the real weaknesses and foibles in our society,” he began.
He went shared his experience during the HIV/AIDS crisis, saying, “If you go back then during that period of time when there was extraordinary stigma particularly against the gay community. And it was only when the world realized how the gay community responded to this outbreak with incredible courage and dignity and strength and activism — I think that really changed some of the stigma against the gay community. Very much so.”
He believes coronavirus could be a similar moment of reckoning for systemic racism against African Americans. “I see a similarity here because health disparities have always existed for the African American community,” Dr. Fauci said. “Here again with the crisis, how it’s shining a bright light on how unacceptable that is because, yet again, when you have a situation like the coronavirus, they are suffering disproportionately.”
Dr. Fauci added, “As Dr. [Deborah] Birx said correctly, it’s not that [Black people] are getting infected more often, it’s that when they do get infected, their underlying medical conditions — the diabetes, hypertension, the obesity, the asthma — those are the kind of things that wind them up in the ICU and ultimately give him a higher death rate.”
He continued, “When all this is over and, as we said, it will end, we will get over coronavirus, but there will still be health disparities which we really do need to address in the African American community.”
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Overall nationwide datasets are unavailable, although lawmakers like Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have requested them from the federal government. But metropolitan areas like Chicago, New Orleans and Milwaukee are reporting as much as 70 percent of their COVID-19 cases are African Americans although they represent around 30 percent or less of their populations.
Other cities like Detroit and Boston have become hotspots for the disease and all of them are led by the New York area, where Blacks and Latinos are twice as likely to die from coronavirus complications as whites, according to preliminary data released by the city on Wednesday.
The virus has infected 419,000 people nationwide and killed 14,000, with 22,000 recoveries, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, 1.4 million people have been infected with 87,000 deaths and 317,000 recoveries.
For the latest on the coronavirus, check out BET’s blog on the virus, and contact your local health department or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.