ARKANSAS (KNWA/ KFTA) — When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, its future severity was unknown. One of the few expected outcomes was that black people would be disproportionately affected, according to a Fort Smith-based medical professional.

Dr. Harvey Potts Jr. is an associate professor with the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith. He said when you look at the five social determinants of health, COVID-19 has further exposed the equity shortcomings people of color face.

These five key determinants include:

  • Economic Stability
  • Education
  • Social and Community Context
  • Health and Health Care
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment

“When you look at those five areas, there’s always been a disparity amongst underrepresented populations, and so the disparities that we see with COVID-19 were currently existing in America before the pandemic,” Potts said.

Because chronic health conditions like diabetes and stroke are already greater among these communities, Potts said it puts them at higher risk for catching illnesses like COVID-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has studied how race played into it.

“We saw that African Americans of certain age groups were more likely to be hospitalized,” said Dr. Tiffany Haynes, a UAMS associate professor.

In a report published in late January, UAMS researchers found one in four Black people aged 60 or older who are COVID-19 positive have been hospitalized. They also found Black people aged 35 to 39 who tested positive for COVID-19 were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized as white people.

“When we’re looking at the population as a whole, we’d expect that our white Americans, particularly in Arkansas because they’re the majority, are going to have more cases,” Haynes said. “When we look at the severity of our hospitalizations, we’re seeing African Americans, although we are a smaller proportion of the population, we’re bearing a disproportionate burden of the hospitalizations.”

This data is personal to Haynes, she said.

“When we’re talking about these numbers, we’re talking about my family, my friends,” Haynes said. “It makes me want to work harder to figure out the why.”

Potts said that why has been highlighted by the current health crisis.

“COVID-19 is just a symptom. It’s a symptom that’s diagnosing the problem of America.”

Dr. Potts

That problem, Potts said, is racism.

“Our next move should be to create anti-racist policies and processes and hold true to the policies and processes in institutions,” Potts said.

Potts said like to see hospitals recruit more minorities and enforce programs to help them advance their careers.

Potts says that education is also crucial.

At the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Potts and other professors have been teaching students to eliminate bias when treating patients.

“It’s not a fluke that the room that we’re sitting in right now at the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine is a room that has an African American, high-fidelity mannequin,” Potts said as he referenced a black mannequin laying in the hospital bed behind him.

“So that even in a simulated environments they at least can acknowledge that other races exist and that you have to treat them with same passion and empathy and compassion as you would anyone,” Potts said.

In a healthcare system Potts said isn’t colorblind, he’s one of many searching for solutions in hopes that racism is looked at as a risk factor and not race itself.

“There will be generations who won’t have to go through these things that we’re experiencing right now if we stick to the long game and the long view and be persistent with it,” Potts said.

Though in Arkansas, hospitalizations are higher among Black people nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black people have a higher rate of death.

The data above reflects 3.05% of Black, non-Hispanic people who tested positive for COVID-19 died from the sickness.

White, non-Hispanic people who were COVID-19 positive had a 2.67% chance of dying.

This shows that even though there are almost five times the positive cases among those who are white, more Black people around the country are dying.

That’s not the case in the “Natural State.”

The Arkansas Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard showed as of Feb. 7, a white person who tested positive for COVID-19 had a 1.89% chance of dying from the virus, while a Black person had a 1.47% chance.

In terms of the vaccination process in Arkansas, KNWA/FOX24 reached out to the ADH for data that breaks down how many people of each race have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the state.

“We are working on a tab that will go on our COVID-19 dashboard that we expect will have this information and other data on vaccinations,” the ADH said. “It is not available yet, but we expect that it will be ready in the near future.”