'Devastating:' Milwaukee Co. leaders say racial inequity causing spread of COVID-19 in Black community

’Devastating: ’ Milwaukee Co. leaders say racial inequity causing spread of COVID-19 in Black community

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MILWAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58 ) -- Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases among African Americans continue to grow in Milwaukee County.

Black residents currently account for about 45% of positive cases and more than half of the deaths in the county.

Some leaders call it "devastating," and say it highlights an even greater, already known problem.

“We need more help. We don’t need people blaming us," said Reggie Jackson, head griot of America's Black Holocaust Museum.

Racial inequity is what local officials say is contributing to the spread of COVID-19 within the black community.

“Stability is really the key measurement that is missing," Milwaukee Health Service CEO Dr. Tito Izard said.

During a Friday county conference call Izard, and several other leaders, cited disinvestment, racism and opportunity as barriers to informing and protecting the black community.

“We need to do more than just flag this," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said.

“There needs to be a huge investment in not only dollars but also people, creativity and innovation, a willingness to loosen up any red tape," City of Milwaukee Health Department Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said.

Black residents make up 50 of the 77 COVID-19 related deaths listed on the county Medical Examiner’s website.

All 50 had underlying health conditions, and among those, more than 60% had diabetes and 50% had hypertension.

"If you do get the virus, you’re much more likely to die from them, and you’re much more likely to suffer severe illnesses even if you survive the virus," Jackson said.

Social distancing does not mean social isolation.

So leaders are also urging black residents to do their part to stop the spread.

“It’s important for us to share that message," said Wanda Montgomery, president of the Brown Deer Village Board. “I enjoy going to church, but this is not the time for me to congregate at church."

The Medical College of Wisconsin Institute for Health and Equity partnered with Milwaukee County to develop epidemiological data on COVID-19.

The $145,000 project will help officials better track the origin and spread of the virus.

The Institute also awarded the Milwaukee Health Department with a $500,000 grant "to rapidly improve communication of prevention guidelines to communities of color living in Milwaukee County," said Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, senior associate dean at the Medical College of Wisconsin School of Medicine.

Much of the work will focus on piloting online training for community health workers to better respond to public health needs.

"We know that mass crisis communications that do not tailor their messages simply fail when there are cross-cultural differences," Ehrenfeld added.

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