Coronavirus: Doctors Say Black Americans Might Not Be Getting Tests

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Black Americans
A group of Virginia doctors believe Black Americans are not getting access to COVID-19 tests due to implicit bias in the approval process. In this photo, a medical technician prepares a COVID-19 test at a New York State Department of Health drive-through testing facility at Jones Beach State Park on Long Island, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Wantagh, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Remember when Black Twitter exploded with hilarious memes about Black people being immune to the COVID-19 coronavirus? Obviously, those users were wrong. NBA player Rudy Gobert and actor Idris Elba’s positive tests put that theory to rest. Now a group of Virginia doctors believe Black Americans are not getting access to COVID-19 tests due to implicit bias in the approval process, BuzzFeed reported.

“We know in the US that there are great discrepancies in not only the diagnosis but the treatment that African Americans and other minorities are afforded. So I want to make sure that in this pandemic, that Black and brown people are treated in the same way and that these tests are made available in the same pattern as for white people,” Dr. Ebony Hilton said.

An associate professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia, Hilton and her peers are urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to release data detailing whether Black people and other minorities “are being left behind as the shortage of coronavirus tests continues in the US,” BuzzFeed reported.

Hilton said since COVID-19 symptoms come from mostly “subjective descriptions,” personal bias is likely to be a determining factor in who gets access to be tested. Her colleague, Dr. Leigh-Ann Webb, echoed her sentiments, saying Black Americans and other minority groups need those with a seat at the table to advocate for them.

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”To be fair, I’m not sure that they needed to track the data on race in China,” Webb told BuzzFeed. “But in the U.S., that would be useful information to have in the future because we already know that this virus affects disproportionately people who have co-morbidities and African Americans are disproportionately affected by almost every cardiovascular disease that we have here in the United States.”

The doctors said awareness of how the coronavirus is spreading across all communities could help people take the virus more seriously. Even if they are asymptomatic, if the number of cases in their communities rise, people would be more willing to follow mandates (like social distancing) to avoid spreading the virus to others.

“My area was like this too, we weren’t really paying attention until we saw cases going up … I think seeing those dashboards and seeing the cases counted, that does give the community a sense of anxiety, unfortunately, but it does make them more vigilant,” assistant University of Virginia professor Dr. Taison Bell said.

U.S. Congressional Candidate Dr. Cameron Webb said for Black Americans – who have historically been mistreated by the U.S. government, particularly when it comes to issues of health and wellness – being turned away from testing due to their race and socioeconomic status is a very real possibility.

I don’t want to speak about Black Americans as if we’re all the same, but there’s a lot of reasons not to trust the government to be fair in circumstances like these,” Webb said. “Yes, that’s a huge question, who has access to those tests … If you’re not an NBA player, it might be a little harder for black people to get access to those tests.”