Coronavirus pandemic hits black Georgians hard

Nikema Williams proudly wears her "COVID-19 survivor" T-shirt. But, when the Georgia State Senator got sick back in March, there were moments she worried she wasn't going to make it.

"Hearing all of the news broadcasts, and everything around the statistics, and what was happening, I just had to turn the TV off," Williams remembers.  "Honestly, I thought I was gonna die."

 Williams, married with a 4-year-old son, recovered, making just one trip to the emergency room.

Still, her experience shook her.

"I see people my age and younger, who did not survive this virus," Williams says.  "I see people who had to be intubated and were on a ventilator, who have had to spend days in the hospital."

African Americans make up 32% of the Georgia population, but account for 42% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations and 49% of coronavirus deaths in the state, according to the COVID Tracking Project's new COVID Racial Data Tracker

Black communities in rural Georgia are being hit especially hard.

The top 4 counties on the COVID Tracking Project's list of counties with the highest per capita death rates in the U.S. are all in Georgia: Hancock, Early, Terrell and Randolph Counties.

They're all rural, and all predominantly African-American.

Dr. Stephanie Miles-Richardson, the Associate Dean of Graduate Education and Public Health at Morehouse School of Medicine, says this was predictable.

"And, it predictable because health disparities were here before COVID-19," Miles-Richardson says.

She has been researching how health disparities influence outcomes for decades.

In an interview early on in the outbreak, Dr. Miles-Richardson pointed out minorities are more likely to work in "essential" jobs, less likely to be able to work from home, or have health insurance, if they do get sick.

 "It matters whether or not you have paid sick leave," she says. "It matters whether you have access to care.”

About half of American adults have an underlying health condition that raises their risk of becoming very ill if they are infected with the virus, including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and lung disease. 

These are all common, Miles-Richardson says, in the black community.

"You have chronic diseases that already lead to a different quality of life, already lead to a different health outcome, and already lead to an early death," she says.  "When you put coronavirus on top of that, that's what we’re seeing.  We’re seeing the explosion, but we’re seeing it on a population that was already challenged."

Kage Goodin of College Park, says he's doing his best, not to get infected.

"It is scary," Goodin says.  "My mother, she has breast cancer.  So, I have to take this thing a lot more seriously than other people do.  I have to overreact to protect my family, to make sure my mom stays alive. I haven't hugged my mother in three months.  I miss her."