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Surgeon General Jerome Adams says "structural racism" and social determinants of health, including poverty, are to blame for why the novel coronavirus has caused more hospitalizations and deaths among communities of color.
Communities of color already had worse health outcomes than white people before the pandemic, but the coronavirus brought renewed attention to the disparities.
The surgeon general plans to roll out two calls to action in the coming months, one on high blood pressure and the other on maternal mortality.
Adams told Business Insider that healthcare providers needed to partner with community groups so people could turn to someone they trusted.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams says that "structural racism" has played a role in why communities of color have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview with Business Insider on Friday, Adams reflected on federal data released last week that found Black seniors were nearly four times as likely as white seniors to be hospitalized because of the coronavirus pandemic and that Latino seniors were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized.
He said some of the outbreaks among communities of color could be attributed to what are known as "social determinants of health" — including that they were more likely to have lower incomes and live in households where grandparents, parents, and children all lived together. They were also more likely to have jobs where they couldn't work from home, making it more likely that they'd be exposed to the coronavirus.
"But there are also factors that we don't measure, and those include things like structural racism," Adams said. "We have to acknowledge that these things are occurring and that they are occurring to people in many cases because of the color of their skin."
Before the pandemic, it was already well known that Black and Latino people in the US were more likely to have health conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease. There's been renewed national attention to these health inequities as data shows these communities have been harder hit by the coronavirus.
Adams plans to draw national attention to health issues
Congressional Democrats had criticized the lack of data on race in the Trump administration's reporting on coronavirus cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced June 4 that states must start collecting data about race, ethnicity, gender, and ZIP code for coronavirus cases, and the agency's website now displays the data.
The CDC's data shows the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on communities of color. More than half of cases have been reported in Black or Latino Americans.
In response to health disparities in America, Adams is readying two calls to action in the coming months on hypertension and maternal mortality — both issues that disproportionately affect communities of color.
A "call to action" from a surgeon general involves publishing and publicizing a document that's supposed to encourage businesses, local governments, healthcare providers, and private citizens to take action on an urgent public-health problem. The last call to action urged people to walk at least 20 minutes a day and came from Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was surgeon general under President Barack Obama.
The hypertension and maternal-mortality calls to action have been in the works for a while, even before the pandemic, but have renewed relevancy, the surgeon general's office said. Adams said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asked him to move up the call to action on hypertension, given that it's one of the top health issues that puts people at higher risk for hospitalization and deaths from the coronavirus.
"We really need to focus on making sure we're paying attention to these disparities, because they're only going to widen after COVID if we don't focus on them," he said, using the shortened name for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, leads to heart disease, strokes, heart attacks, and kidney disease, and affects 40% of Black Americans.
Adams said he was concerned about how women had to put off prenatal checkups during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, data showed Black women were more than three times as likely to die during or after childbirth than white women were.
Adams stressed the importance of community partnerships
As the nation's top doctor, Adams is responsible for getting the word out about how people can improve their health. He also oversees 6,000 public-health service members who work throughout the government.
Last week, he called up the celebrity chef José Andrés, who he said had a "unique megaphone within the Latinx community."
He said they spoke about how to encourage people to wear masks and about how to protect restaurant workers, such as the people in Andrés' kitchens.
"We talked about the fact that many of his frontline workers in restaurants are at particularly high risk and the measures that he's taking to protect them, because we know that we can face things from a scientific point of view and from a governmental point of view," he said. "But in some cases we just aren't going to have that trust with certain communities who were at risk, and so we need to find intermediaries."
Adams has talked openly about being a Black man in America. Last week he told Politico's "Pulse Check" podcast that he felt George Floyd's death at the hands of the police "could have been me." At a White House press briefing in April, he said growing up as a poor Black child in America predisposed him to having asthma and high blood pressure.
The surgeon general's plans to take on hypertension and maternal health
His office plans to recommend home blood-pressure monitoring and will stress to patients why it's important to stay on top of their hypertension medications.
On maternal mortality, Adams says he will recommend hospitals work with community groups so women have someone they trust to turn to "so that a Black woman doesn't have to go in and feel that her only option to talk about some of her concerns is with an older white man who she can't relate to and who may know nothing about her community."
"Black women don't feel welcomed into the healthcare settings that are often available," Adams continued. "They feel stigmatized, they feel not heard, they feel disregarded."
Adams, who used to run Indiana's health department when Vice President Mike Pence was governor of the state, said he believed his attention to racial disparities in his role would make a difference in people's lives.
"I'm a Christian, and I believe God doesn't put you where you're going to be comfy and where it's going to be easy," he said. "God puts you where you're needed. And so I just continue to have faith in the fact that I am where I'm needed. I really do feel like I am making a difference, particularly in terms of outreach to minority populations and communities, and also to public-health departments."
Read the original article on Business Insider