LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Of all the people who have died of COVID-19 in Louisiana, 7 out of 10 are African Americans. That tracks with data from other states, which are seeing a disproportionate number of black and Latino patients dying. Here's Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who is black and also has asthma, at the White House on Friday saying that America's long-standing issues with racial inequality are to blame.
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JEROME ADAMS: Let me be crystal clear. We do not think people of color are biologically or genetically predisposed to get COVID-19. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. But they are socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure and to have a higher incidence of the very diseases that put you at risk for severe complications of coronavirus.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Takeisha Davis serves as a physician and CEO at the New Orleans East Hospital in Louisiana. And she joins us now. Welcome to the program.
TAKEISHA DAVIS: Thank you for having me, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did you make of the surgeon general's remarks this week?
DAVIS: Unfortunately, I'm not surprised. Although this data is shocking, we have been dealing with the longstanding persistent discriminatory policies leading to inequitable health outcomes in our patients for centuries.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me what that means.
DAVIS: That means for the population that I serve here in New Orleans East, which is mostly African American and Vietnamese American, low socio-economic status - that we see higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases that have led to preventable deaths for many, many years here in Louisiana. And so we've got to look at how these communities who are our essential workers who don't have the ability to socially distance have the early testing, be diagnosed, and get the treatments that they need to stay alive.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what I'm hearing you also saying here is that it's not only maybe the underlying conditions that communities of color may have but also the kinds of jobs that they have. So when you look around, you're seeing construction workers who are Latinos being exposed. You're seeing delivery people who may be African American being exposed in ways that perhaps other communities aren't.
DAVIS: Lulu, that's exactly right. We are continuing to perpetuate these inequities by asking our disenfranchised communities - our African American and Latinos who work in roles where they have more face-to-face contact - they have to go to work, and we're deeming them essential but at the same time devaluing the importance of ensuring that they have the appropriate protective equipment so that they don't contract this disease and potentially succumb to it at higher rates.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So they don't have the protective equipment, but there's something else that you mentioned there, which is access to testing. Are we seeing communities of color not getting the testing that they need?
DAVIS: In our community here at New Orleans East Hospital, we stood up a drive-through tent and realized that many members of our community don't have cars. So we needed to stand up walk-through testing. But many communities of color don't have access to the testing because the testing was being rationed out.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you take me into your hospital? I mean, who are you seeing dying there of COVID-19? And can you tell me the story of one person who passed away?
DAVIS: Absolutely. The New Orleans East Hospital is a hospital that was built after being destroyed from Hurricane Katrina. It's in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. And so what we're seeing in our hospital is that instead of a war being raged on the rooftops of homes, it's within our hospital walls. We have seen 83% of the cases of COVID-19 in African Americans. We have a very high positivity rate. We have had several deaths. One in particular of one of our valued team members - a nurse - a 46-year-old African American woman who did have underlying health care conditions. She was exposed doing her job, and so she ultimately succumbed. And so I tell that story because that is one that is profound for the New Orleans East Hospital but one that we're seeing across our hospital, where families are dropping off their loved ones with mild symptoms. And then two weeks later, we're having to call them to say that they didn't make it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think that this pandemic - because it has been such a shock to the system here in the United States - may push that conversation forward?
DAVIS: Lulu, I'm hopeful for that, but I am a little bit jaded because, as I mentioned, I work in a hospital that I still everyday have to fight for parity in this hospital to make sure that the people who are seen here have the same expectation of health outcomes that they do in hospitals across town. And so I am hopeful that we will move this conversation past just discussing and analyzing data to one of action to where we're not having the same conversation the next time we have a national disaster.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Takeisha Davis serves as a physician and CEO at New Orleans East Hospital in Louisiana. Thank you very much.
DAVIS: Thank you so much, Lulu.
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