Surgeon general uses inhaler to explain racial divide during coronavirus pandemic

MIAMI – U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on Friday that it is alarming, but it’s not surprising that minorities are having a higher mortality rate during the coronavirus pandemic.

Adams said it’s not because they are genetically predisposed to get COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. It’s because they are socially predisposed to exposure and chronic health conditions put them at risk for severe complications.

“The chronic burden of medical ills is likely to make people of color especially less resilient to the ravages of COVID-19," Adams said. “And it’s possible, in fact likely, the burden of social ills is also contributing.”

The data hits home for Adams. During a news conference on Friday at The White House, the 45-year-old anesthesiologist and vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps showed reporters an inhaler. He said he has been carrying one with him for 40 years out of fear of having a fatal asthma attack.

“I hope that showing you this inhaler shows little kids with asthma all across the country that they can grow up to be surgeon general one day,” Adams said.

The data on the race of the 419 people who have died of COVID-19 in Florida is not available, but the disparity has been reported in New York, Chicago and Milwaukee.

In New York City, about 9% of the population identified as black, yet the mortality data shows that about 18% of the patients who died of COVID-19 are black. In Chicago, about 30% of the population identified as black, yet about 70% of the COVID-19 patients who died are black. In Milwaukee, about 26% of the population identified as black, yet 66% of the patients who died are black.

Researchers believe the institution of slavery, segregation laws and racism set the path for the pervasive health inequities we see today. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, agrees.

“When you are in the middle of a crisis like we are now with the coronavirus, it really does have, ultimately, shine a very bright light on some of the real weaknesses and foibles in our society,” Fauci said.

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.