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Ask Dr. Nandi: Why are some families affected by COVID so differently and disproportionately?

Posted at 5:46 PM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 17:46:39-05

(WXYZ) — Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon - who recently passed away - wasn’t the only person in his family to die after contracting COVID-19.

An uncle and five cousins also died from it. Which brings up the question, “Why are some families affected by COVID so differently and disproportionately?”

This is very disheartening news. Sheriff Benny Napoleon was a great man and a respected law enforcement expert. My condolences to his entire family.

They have really suffered – besides the 6 family deaths just mentioned - Sheriff Napoleon’s brother was also terribly ill with COVID-19 and in the hospital for 72 days. 36 of them were spent on a ventilator. Thankfully he recovered.

But back to your question, why is it that some families are affected by COVID more than others? Well, there are many factors that can play a role. But here in the US, data shows that more people of color get seriously sick and die from COVID when compared to Caucasians.

In particular, African Americans have been hit hard. Recent data from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows this very clearly. One in 875 African Americans died from COVID-19. Compare that to one in 1,625 white people. That’s almost twice the death rate.

There are several factors, let me start with income inequality. When you make less money, that can lead to things like less food on the table. Or buying food that is cheap but maybe not so healthy like processed foods.

Also, people of color are less likely to have health insurance or have consistent access to it. That means fewer doctor visits - and possibly not keeping on top of health conditions. We know that chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and lung disease are linked to poorer outcomes when it comes to COVID-19.

And lastly, we can’t ignore the allostatic load of racism – the accumulated physiological burden from discrimination, violence, and income inequality. It can raise stress levels in the body. Which can then affect a person’s immunity. And their body simply may not be able to really defend itself against illness and disease.

Yes, diabetes can run in families. Obesity can too. And a person’s risk of heart disease is higher if they have a family history of it.

In fact, heart disease is a leading cause of death for African Americans. So that could be why some families are hit harder.

But I want to share an interesting case study of identical male twins – sixty years of age with almost identical genetic makeup. Both of them developed COVID-19. Both ended up in the hospital. One of them was released after two weeks. And the other was moved to the intensive care unit, intubated and mechanically ventilated.

So this just demonstrates, how unpredictable this virus can be. No one truly knows how their body will react to this virus. And that’s why we all need to continue to be vigilant with following COVID precautions.

Holiday excitement and parties are not always a good time for everyone. Dr. Partha Nandi, talks with guest Brittany Stallworth Jackson who struggles this time of year because of unfortunate experiences she's had around the holidays. And if you're feeling stressed out, then you won’t want to miss therapist Tamika Reeves who shares tips on how to eliminate holiday stress. Plus Dr. Nandi and experts demonstrate fun exercises and delicious food that can help keep your figure in line despite all the holiday goodies. Watch The Dr. Nandi show this Sunday, December 12th at 5 pm.

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