CHARLOTTE – Doug E. Fresh dons a face mask and gloves in his latest music video, rhyming “Everybody keep your face masks on, don’t take it off because corona is strong.”
The 30-second clip is part of a campaign launched by Novant Health to emphasize social distancing among African Americans. The hospital system also enlisted in Charlotte native Anthony Hamilton in similar messaging to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
“What was true before COVID-19 is true now: We have real health disparities in our black communities,” said Vicky Free, chief marketing officer of Novant Health. “We see the trend and we’re taking action.”
African Americans make up half of the 951 COVID-19 cases through April 12 in Mecklenburg County. Of the first 12 deaths, all were over the age of 60 with underlying chronic health conditions and half of those were African American.
Gibbie Harris, public health director for Mecklenburg County, said these statistics should not be surprising.
“When we look at our demographics and our data in this community, this is the population that is hardest hit by all of the chronic diseases,” Harris said. “This is the population where we see the biggest challenges around social determinants – jobs, housing, education. So why should it be surprising that COVID-10 is treating this population any differently? This is just symptomatic of the problems we have in our system for this particular population in our community.”
Harris said the county is having conversations with the hospital systems about opening more testing sites.
Atrium Health announced April 14 that it was rolling out additional coronavirus testing centers for underserved and minority communities. The hospital system sought to increase access to testing by removing financial barriers and not requiring appointments at these new sites.
“Through using a robust framework of actionable, real-time data, Atrium Health has identified specific areas in Charlotte’s underserved and minority communities with limited access to testing sites where our mobile health units can truly provide health, hope and healing – for all,” said Kinneil Coltman, chief community and external affairs officer.
The county is also working to promote the message of staying at home and social distancing to African Americans via churches, radio stations and other trusted sources.
Some Mecklenburg County commissioners expressed concern about the statistics during their April 7 meeting. Vilma Leake spoke about the vulnerability of seniors while Mark Jerrell worried about African Americans.
Jerrell used the phase “When the country catches a cold, black people catch pneumonia” to drive home the point that leaders must put measures in place to ensure African Americans don’t fall further behind due to the pandemic.