COVID-19 NC: Protests, Patient Care & Disparities

Jun 6, 2020

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News Founding Editor Rose Hoban.  This week they discuss  the latest COVID-19 metrics, how coronavirus is changing patient care in hospitals, the potential impact of protests on the coronavirus curve,  the disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases among communities of color and a new task force formed to address many of the inequities that contribute to those statistics.     

HC: So, let’s start with a look at the numbers, which  keep rising.  As of Friday (6/5) there are now more than 33-thousand cases in the North Carolina.   Lots more testing is happening, and officials keep saying the percent positive is relatively stable.  But with ongoing mass gatherings like protests, you have to start wondering. 

Right, we had a record number of positives yesterday (Thursday) and you could make the argument now, I haven't looked at the break-down on the map to see where they were, but you could make the argument that there were some mass events over the Memorial Day weekend. And this is about the time where people are going to start like getting sick enough that they're going to be seeking out testing.

HC: Another number that is up -  people in the hospital

You know we’re at 717.  I think that's an all-time high.  I did talk to the folks today at UNC and they were saying that they’re back more at  the kind of full in their ICU that they were prior. However, they do have some COVID beds that they're keeping empty in terms in order to be able to accommodate any surge. So, you know, that's also an issue.  We'll be watching what happens to hospital beds as these bump-ups progress to the point these people may end up in the hospital.

HC: Speaking of hospitals, you spent some time in the Intensive Care Unit at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill for a piece you are working on about how COVID-19  is impacting patient care.   Can you give us a preview, what did you see?

You know, it's small things.  A bunch of the nurses are wearing these headbands that have big buttons sewn onto them. And so, their face masks hook onto those buttons rather than onto their ears because it was bothering their ears to wear face masks for 10-12 hours a day.  But also, large things about separating infected patients versus uninfected patients. So, in order  to divide the hot zone from the non-hot zone, they have these places where you're supposed to walk or not walk. I mean, it was just fascinating the way that they had to rearrange care.  

HC: Now we’re going to circle back to Thursday’s coronavirus task force briefing.  One of the numbers that has triggered action by Governor Roy Cooper is the disproportionate number of covid-19 cases among communities of color.

Right, right. So African Americans make up about 20 percent( give or take ) of the people in the state but they make up 28% of the people who have been diagnosed, and they make up 34% of the people who've died.  

Why have African Americans been so affected by COVID? And you know, you could look at things like access to care.  And my golly, we've all heard of the Tuskegee Airmen study where, government physicians allowed men who were African American who had syphilis to continue having syphilis, so they could study them for decades. The distrust of the healthcare system goes back really far. Right. There's the, the whole, like physiologic process.  We've seen it. We've seen it this week. We've seen it over the past couple years -  with George Floyd and all the other African American men and women who've been killed by police.  And the kind of stress that this engenders in the African American community, long term stress. There's lots of research out there now about cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a stress hormone in your body and how having that increased for such a long time can predispose you to illness. So, there's just a lot of things that are there that are really going to take a lot of unwinding in our society until we get to a place where we're more equitable.

Task Force: The governor came out yesterday and he announced the formation of a task force to look at many of the disparities that exist in our state, for communities of color.  They're going to be looking at a multitude of areas. Everything from healthcare, to education, business development, employment, environmental justice, which I thought is interesting.  There's plenty of research showing that working poor folks of color live closer places that have “less good” environmental track records, let’s put it that way. So, this this taskforce, which will be led by Machelle Sanders, who's the secretary of the State Department of Administration. They will be looking at this whole issue and seeing what as a state they can do in terms of policy.  So these processes take a long time, and they have to have buy in from everyone. And, you know, this is just the very beginning.

HC: What is on tap for next week?

We’ll have my ICU story. We have a couple of reporters looking at the things that lead African Americans to be sicker from COVID-19.    We ran a story today on if someone with COVID-19  is handling your food, is it safe to eat? We did a big flush out of it, but the answer is proper food handling, wash the vegetables, cook t meat to the proper temperature and you're fine. But that's the short answer, we dug into UV light and bleach and farmers who are sick - so we dug into a bunch for that story.

About Rose Hoban: 

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees in public health policy and journalism. She's reported on science, health, policy and research in NC since 2005. Contact: editor at northcarolinahealthnews.org