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STATE HOUSE–African-Americans make up about 9 percent of Indiana’s population, but about 20 percent of the people who have died from coronavirus. The Indiana Legislative Black Caucus has some suggestions to try and cut down on that disproportionate number of deaths.

The causes

“A lack of quality health care access, a lack of health insurance, prior chronic health conditions, systematic racism, housing disparities, food and pharmacy deserts,” said state Rep. Robin Shackleford, chair of the Caucus, when describing some of the causes. “An overall greater chance of African-Americans as essential workers serving on the front lines of this crisis.”

She said that serving on the front lines makes for a greater chance of contracting the virus. State Rep. Greg Porter said that once black people get the disease, doctors health care workers have traditionally been skeptical.

“Patients of color experience longer wait times. Treatment is not where it should be when it comes to people of color. There’s definitely a lack of diagnostic testing and failure to administer the medicine.”

Porter said he believes some African-Americans are sometimes treated badly, spoken to in a condescending tone in the ER.

“An example of this is with sickle cell. When we go into the emergency room there are people who feel that we’re trying to shop and get drugs,” he said.

State Rep. Earl Harris said that blacks are sometimes forced by economic conditions to live in close quarters, putting them in danger from easily-spread diseases.

The suggestions

The Caucus is forwarding eight suggestions to address the problem to Gov. Holcomb and state health commissioner Dr. Kris Box. One of the suggestions is a requirement that companies be required to provide personal protective equipment to essential workers.

Another of the suggestions is an increase in the minimum wage, which Porter calls a “liveable wage”.

“We want to look at what other states are doing when it comes to best practices. For example, our next door neighbors of Ohio, where blacks are less likely to die of COVID-19.”

The Cuacus also suggested a task force should be formed to study the problem, an outreach campaign designed to reach African-Americans about coronavirus, and a legislative declaration of racism as a public health crisis.

“There must be a commitment to having people understand racism as a root cause of racial health disparities IDSH should sponsor and encourage diversity, anti-bias and anti-racism training led by ISDH and community people,” said a news release from the Caucus.