On this restless night, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get the fact that so many African Americans are dying from the coronavirus, COVID-19, out of my head.
Tossing and turning, I asked the Lord, What am I to do and what should be done to bring more awareness to African American communities about the seriousness of this virus and how to better avoid catching it and passing it on to others?
I am an African American mayor in Leflore County, where out of 15 deaths caused by the virus, all are African Americans. In Mississippi, as of April 26 and including all reported cases since March 11, 6,094 cases were reported, 3,168 of them African Americans and 2,034 white.
The total number of deaths included 139 African-Americans, 89 white and one other.
I am deeply concerned about the number of deaths occurring in black communities. Are blacks getting the same information stressing the importance of protecting themselves from this virus? Are blacks getting the same care and instruction when seen by health care professionals? Is there enough of the right kind of information in our communities? What about commercials, ads, newspapers, radio, that show the effect of the virus, just how highly contagious it is?
Yes, among African Americans there are underlying health problems, just as there are with other races.
But the group of people proven most likely to be infected and die are blacks. Leflore County and Mississippi, we must do more to keep our African Americans safe.
More testing is needed in black communities for as many as possible. There are new cases every day, and the most at-risk people need the most help.
I went to the hospital to get tested for the virus after being exposed by at least four people who tested positive for the virus. I attended an event before the extent of the virus was known, and many were infected there. I told the doctor that I knew I had been exposed. I was told that I didn’t have enough symptoms to be tested, even though I said that I had been exposed by at least four people who tested positive. I was not advised to stay home for two weeks.
On Friday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced that he would allow the stay-at-home order to expire on Monday while urging residents to remain vigilant and continue safe practices to stop the spread of the virus.
Reeves said earlier models projected that Mississippi would be seeing about 90 deaths per day by this time, but only eight people died the previous day. The Greenwood Commonwealth reported that trends were pointing in the right direction.
Governor Reeves has the authority to impose firm orders and not just make suggestions. In these times of loss of lives and suffering among so many, my question is, Why lift the stay-at-home now when more blacks than others are yet dying? Where is the help that is needed for all citizens of the state of Mississippi?
I realize that there may not be enough tests to test everyone, but when there is an outbreak among any group, everyone should be quarantined and given the same instructions, whether in businesses, at home, in long-term care facilities or churches. No one should be sent back into their home or community after being exposed without proper instruction.
All people need the same treatment, care and information to stay alive. In a country where more than 55,000 people have died from COVID-19, let us do more to keep all Americans alive.
Until the same effort is put forth for all of Mississippi, we will continue to have a greater loss of African American brothers and sisters. I pray that all leaders seek God’s guidance during this time of trouble.
• Johnnie Neal is the mayor of Sidon.