COVID-19 and Impacts on Ethnic Communities

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By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

The particular dangers of COVID-19 to ethnic communities was the topic of a teleconference last Friday.

Tung Nguyen

Dr. Tung Nguyen, professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and director of the Asian American Research Center, detailed the statistics on the spread of the disease. As of March 24, 820,000 had been infected in the world, with more than 40,000 deaths worldwide.

“Doctors will have to decide who gets an ICU bed, who lives or dies. This is happening while all the usual sickness is going on. COVID will be taking over health resources,” Nguyen said.

“I hope I alarm you a bit because that’s why prevention is so important. No healthcare system can deal with uncontrolled spread. Stay home: it keeps you from getting infected and spreading it to others.”

The doctor said to beware of touching objects. The virus may be in the air for three hours, on cardboard for 24 hours, and on plastic and steel for 72 hours.

Be sure to clean frequently touched objects such as doorknobs, door handles and cellphones.

On hoarding, Dr. Nguyen said: “Hoarding is not innocuous. Buying things you don’t need right away means people who need it can’t get it, particularly things like masks.”

For those who believe they have the infection, Dr. Nguyen said that many will not show symptoms. At this time, with the scarcity of testing kids, he advised that COVID-19 tests must be allocated to those who absolutely need it. Currently there is no proven treatment.

“Do not overwhelm the healthcare system. We do not have time, energy or resources for people who are just worried,” he stated.

“Even if you have symptoms, unless you worry about passing it on, you can manage symptoms acetaminophen, drink fluids and self-quarantine. If symptoms persist for more than seven days, contact a healthcare provider. DON’T GO IN, talk to them first. If you are vomiting of have trouble breathing – call right away.”

For those who have multigenerational families with elderly parents, Dr. Nguyen suggested creating a decontamination room.

“Have a place where you can change your clothes, wash your hands. If you have symptoms, put a mask on.”

Daniel Turner-Lloveras

Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, an assistant professor of medicine at Harbor-UCLA/David Geffen School of Medicine, wearing hospital scrubs, spoke from the front lines of the health crisis.

He further emphasized how important it is that the public stay home and follow the shelter-in-place guidelines set by government and public health officials.

“California is more prepared than other states, because of time. New York and California started preparing early. We have an extra week, which buys us time to stock up, prepare tents, extra beds. By the time it gets here we will be better prepared when the surge of patients arrives.

Dr. Turner-Lloveras worked as a primary care physician and hospitalist in Watts and Skid Row as a scholar with the National Health Service Corps.

He emphasized the importance of taking care of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers during the pandemic. He said the Remain in Mexico program must be dismantled and urged ICE to stop detaining immigrants.

“If there are those who are afraid to seek care or unable or have no access, they will be harbingers of the virus,” Turner-Lloveras said.

Dr. Rishi Manchanda, founder and president of HealthBegins, said that communities of color are particularly at risk during the pandemic.

“Systemic racism means that many communities of color have limited access to insurance. Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are more likely to be uninsured. They also have fewer economic resources, so they have less ability to absorb the economic and public health impacts,” he stated.

“They are at increased risk of getting infected. First it’s hard not to work for communities of color. They have lower wages, less access to insurance coverage, which forces them to work even while ill. It’s so vital that everyone stay at home. We know that’s more challenging for people of color,” Dr. Manchanda said.

In addition to higher rates of chronic illness, lower wages and insufficient insurance coverage among people of color greatly limit their access to treatment and often force them to work while ill.

“Many are in service industries, health care, cashiers, grocery workers. Frontline workers face tough choices between their health and holding onto their jobs. It’s hard not to work,” Manchanda said.

Another challenge is the limited access to testing.

“Many communities of color have more chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease… higher rates of smoking. It puts them more at risk for severe complications,” Manchanda said.

Sampat Shivangi

Dr. Sampat Shivangi serves on the Trump Administration’s Center for Mental Health Services Advisory Council. He spoke about the mental health challenges during the pandemic, particularly the impact of social isolation.

“Social isolation and loneliness increases risk of premature mortality,” Dr. Shivangi said. “Quarantine is often an unpleasant experience. Separation from loved ones, loss of freedom, uncertainty and boredom.”

He said social isolation can lead to an increase in addictions such as alcohol and drug abuse.

“Lack of social connection heightens health risk. Loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity,” he said.

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