Testing empowers you to stay safe and reduce the spread.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the entire country. However, research shows Black Americans are statistically more likely to get COVID-19, and also to have serious complications from it. As a result, Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate numbers. One way to help reduce this disparity is through improved and equal access to COVID-19 testing.
Risk Factors for Black Americans
COVID-19 is affecting Black Americans at higher rates for a number of reasons. They may be more likely to get infected due to:
- Working in “essential” jobs where they have high exposure to other people and/or can’t work from home
- Living in more crowded housing situations
- Having jobs that don’t offer paid sick leave
- Living in areas with inadequate COVID-19 testing facilities
To make it worse, Black Americans are 3.7 times more likely to need hospitalization and 2.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This disparity is partially because of the prevalence of other health conditions that make COVID-19 more dangerous, including:
- Heart disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- High blood pressure
These are risk factors for COVID-19 complications, and many of them are more prevalent in Black Americans than in the general population.
How COVID-19 Testing Can Help
Until there is widespread vaccination, COVID-19 testing is one of the best ways to empower yourself. The purpose of testing is to detect positive cases early, so that you can:
- Monitor your symptoms and get help quickly if you need it
- Self-isolate from others to reduce the spread
Here’s the problem: Not all communities and neighborhoods have equal access to testing.
Improvements Needed to Testing Sites
Black Americans are statistically more likely to live in urban areas. Large cities in particular have struggled to offer enough testing to match its population density. Fewer testing sites means people have to travel farther to access them. It also results in long lines. Plus, people in large cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are more likely to not own cars and rely on public transportation.
This creates a situation in which testing is inconvenient or nearly impossible for some people. Imagine someone who works two jobs and has children. To ask them to take a long bus ride to a testing site where they may have to wait in line for an hour or two is unreasonable.
In other words, many Black Americans in urban areas are stuck in a difficult situation. They may work in “essential” jobs that expose them to many people, and it is difficult to get tested on a regular basis. If they do get COVID-19 but don’t know it, they may spread it to their family members and neighbors. This cycle contributes to the disparity in COVID-19 rates.
Improved access to testing could make a big difference, especially for Black Americans in urban areas. For COVID-19 testing to truly work, it needs to be fast, accessible, and efficient. This could help reduce the racial disparities and slow the spread of COVID-19 overall.
Stella A. Safo, MD, is an HIV primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.