Why has Prince George’s County been hit so hard? Can it really be about race? All about race? The economics would tell you otherwise, after all, this is one of the most successful counties in the country for African-American professionals. But, despite the money, you can’t run away from the problems that racism bring to your life.
It will never be lost on me that the ‘ OPEN THE ECONOMY’ people came screaming about 2.2 seconds after the data was released about who was disproportionately dying from COVID-19.
Black and Brown folks.
Yeah, I’m never going to forget that.
For a decade, Stephen B. Thomas has studied racial inequality from a research center at the University of Maryland. It happens to be located in one of the wealthiest Black enclaves in the nation, Prince George’s County.
The location wasn’t necessarily relevant to his work — until now. Thomas and his team at the university’s Center for Health Equity are in the midst of a real-time case study asking a disconcerting question:
Why has affluent Prince George’s been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other place Maryland?
“You would expect Prince George’s to be the healthiest county in the country,” Thomas said. “It’s not even the healthiest county in Maryland.”
More than 19,000 Prince George’s residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, more than 27 percent of Maryland’s total cases. The county accounts for just 15 percent of the state’s population.
More than 650 residents have died of COVID-19, a fifth of the state’s total deaths and second only to more populous Montgomery County.
“The virus is a terrorist, it is a monster in the village,” said Curlee Raven Holton, an artist who in April lost his mentor and close friend, the distinguished professor David C. Driskell, to the coronavirus.
Researchers have long documented how racial disparities in income, housing, access to medical care, and exposure to violence and trauma lead to poorer health among African Americans.
But increasingly, they’re also finding that even for those in higher income and educational brackets, simply the stress of navigating a discriminatory world — where doctors don’t take your symptoms as seriously, or seeing a police car on your street can be frightening rather than reassuring — takes a toll on health.
“We still see stark racial disparities even at the highest income levels,” said Tanjala Purnell, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity. “People say, ‘Oh, minorities are dying because they’re poor.’ We know that’s not the case.”
Taken as a whole, experts say, the county’s experience reflects the persistence of racial inequities that have left African Americans and other minorities more vulnerable to the virus.
“Look at all of the inequities that African Americans face in jobs, in housing, in education, in the criminal justice system as well as in health care,” said Deneen Richmond, an administrator at Luminis Health, which operates Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham.
“COVID is really exposing these underlying health disparities,” she said. “Racism in and of itself is a public health crisis.”