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Black community leaders address disparities as COVID-19 hits African-Americans hard

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The COVID-19 crisis is hitting black Wisconsinites particularly hard.

While less than 7 percent of the state is black, African-American patients make up more than a quarter of Wisconsin's confirmed cases and nearly half of the state's deaths.

The troubling trend is no surprise for the leaders of Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association. The group, which focuses on the health of black men, said the crisis is just exacerbating issues that were already there.

"These are chronic issues," Dr. Alvin Thomas said. "And these chronic issues are not new."

According to Dr. Logan Edwards, it comes down to generational and socioeconomic trends.

"Black Americans disproportionately belong to a part of the workforce that doesn't have the luxury of staying at home or sheltering at home so oftentimes that puts us on the front lines," he said.

On top of that, black Wisconsinites are more likely to live in urban areas which are hit harder and across the country, African-Americans are more likely to suffer from health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma. This puts them at additional risk of poor health outcomes.

Dr. Edwards said that's why it's so important to educate younger members of the black community that age does not make them immune to the virus.

"Health risks that are already present in your life, that's what's going to be most important for everyone to protect themselves," he said.

Connecting with the black community is the group's most important tool and while traditional support groups are out of the question, Dr. Thomas said a virtual group has proven successful.

The group launched its first Facebook live support group last Saturday. Dr. Thomas said it wasn't just an educational tool but an important way to allow black men to safely discuss their fears and anxieties.

"Being able to create that space is so important," he said. "A number of men left that session with a different feeling."

Their first meeting brought 60 men from around the world. They plan to continue the group over the next 10 weeks.

At the same time, Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County is working to educate while providing aid.

"To make sure that we're helping those who are the most vulnerable in our community," he said.

He's been distributing resources from the United Way's COVID-19 relief fund while working to spread the message that everyone needs to abide by social distancing guidelines.

"We need to do everything we can to try and minimize our connection to this virus by paying attention and listening," he said.

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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