African Americans suffer disproportionately from the work and economic changes brought by COVID-19. The number of unemployed Americans has reached 40 million. Weekly unemployment claims, though still massively high, are trending down from the high of 6.9 million in late March to 2.1 million this week. In all these numbers the service sector is particularly hard hit, which disproportionately affects African Americans. Our physical health is at risk, not only because of health disparities, but also because many of the occupations which we hold are not amenable to working from home. We therefore are exposed to public transportation and places of work without adequate PPE. The burden of our economic suffering is exemplified by the 40 per cent decrease in working African American business owners due to the economic shutdown, much worse than other ethnicities. Before the shutdown, we already had the lowest level of business ownership.
It is clear that the federal government is not going to use all the measures at its disposal, such as the Defense Production Act, to support the state managed testing, contact tracing, and isolation. These are the means which experience, and experts, say will lessen lives lost and speed economic recovery. As citizens we must all do our part to empower our best health. Social distancing remains the hallmark of prevention of spread of this very contagious virus. Although 6 feet has been advocated as the proper distance of separation, recent work indicates that this may not be enough. Your risk of being exposed increases when you are indoors and particularly with poor room ventilation. The evolving research on effective social distancing further magnifies the need to wear a face covering certainly when you are within 6 feet of any other individual with whom you do not live.
There are great mental and physical health benefits to being outdoors, especially with the pandemic. The vulnerable population (meaning those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic lung, heart, or kidney diseases; and decreased immune system) needs to particularly weigh the risk and be sure to safeguard. Everybody is weary of being cooped up for the last several months and there is peace of mind derived from being outside. Social distancing still needs to be observed. The sunshine helps increase your body’s Vit D, which boosts your immune system. Taking walks, running, and bicycling are excellent. Playing golf, tennis and other one on one sports are fine with sport specific precautions. It is okay to visit the park or to go hiking on a trail. Always remember to take your own water and snacks. Being in a swimming pool is of low risk unless you are within inappropriate social distance of another swimmer. The big risk from swimming pools is around the pool, which can easily lead to violation of proper social distancing. Before you leave home, plan to avoid public restrooms. If you must use the facility, wait until the room is empty, if it is small. By all means, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when finished. According to our CDC, everyone should wear a face covering when they are around others, if not able to socially distance.
Take control of you mental and physical health by safely getting outdoors during these summer months. Socially distance, wear a face covering, wash your hands and enjoy yourself while we wait for a vaccine against COVID-19.
Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association