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COVID-19 pandemic highlights socioeconomic health care disparities

University of Virginia physicians are concerned with the socioeconomic gap in healthcare.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Across the nation, there’s been a trend of African Americans dying at higher rate from coronavirus.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is heading the national coronavirus task force, said blacks are suffering from the coronavirus disproportionately across the country, largely due to already having a higher proportion of underlying health conditions.

Take Louisiana for example, data is from April 7 showed black people accounted for 70 percent of the coronavirus-related deaths there, but make up only 32 percent of the population.

Right now, there’s not a lot of data to fully understand why this is happening.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said we should be receiving the racial breakdown of coronavirus cases in Maryland by the end of this week.

WUSA9 spoke with two medical doctors from the University of Virginia who said the disparities in race are true, and there is also a socioeconomic component that can't be ignored.

"This pandemic is going to truly highlight the flaw in medicine, and show you that these disparities affect all," said Dr. Ebony Hilton. 

Hilton is a double board-certified critical care anesthesiologist at the University of Virginia. She’s concerned about those who have no choice but to work.

"Those who are essential workers -- so, the people we're saying you have to go to work in the grocery store, you have to go to work as the bus driver, as the cleaning staff of the hospital, you're not getting the training of how to protect themselves when they're going to work, and therefore when they go back home, you're spreading it within the community," Hilton said.

She said there’s disparities in race in health care  That’s becoming more evident during this pandemic, but she also noted the disparity in class when it comes to heath care and the two are not synonymous.

In this pandemic, board-certified emergency medicine physician Dr. Leigh-Ann Webb said more people need to realize how we’re all intertwined.

"If you're what we call an 'asymptomatic carrier;' if you have the virus with no symptoms, and you're talking in the grocery store, and you're doing other things while you're out, you could potentially cause these grocery stores and other areas to be hot spots," Webb said.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where you're from, or what you do for a living, if you’re going outside of your home into a public space, you're putting yourself and others at risk.

"This pandemic will show us just how one of a community we truly are, and that if you don't protect the weakest, and the most vulnerable population, the entire nation will suffer for it," Hilton said.

It's important to remember this virus impacts us all. Hilton and Webb believe social distancing is important so slowing the spread of COVID-19.

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