Boston’s communities of color hit hardest by coronavirus outbreak

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Thursday a new task force to tackle the disparity in how the coronavirus outbreak has hit communities of color and the poorest neighborhoods of the city.

BOSTON — Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Thursday a new task force to tackle the disparity in how the coronavirus outbreak has hit communities of color and the poorest neighborhoods of the city.

A map released by Boston Public Health Commission shows certain neighborhoods of the city - primarily East Boston, Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park - have higher coronavirus incidence rates.

The City of Boston released new data showing 40.3 percent of Boston residents who tested positive for the virus are black, 28.4 percent are white, 14.2 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 4.8 percent are Asian and 12.3 percent identify as another race or ethnicity.

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Members of the COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force reflect the city's diversity and include health care leaders and community advocates, Walsh said.

"This task force will review the data on health inequities that face African-American, Latino, and the Asian populations here in Boston. It will analyze the data and best practices in related to the COVID response," Walsh said. “The task force will strengthen our strategy for equity and access to service. It will help us provide recommendations for resources and strategies that the city can use moving forward.”

Dr. Joseph Betancourt, Vice President and Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Boston 25 News Thursday the disparity has nothing to do with genetics but a lot to do with economic and living situations, as well as less access to health care.

"There's a series of social conditions that create a perfect storm to occur," Betancourt said. "Communities that are densely populated where individuals with perhaps multiple family members in small homes, where those same individuals are essential workers and don’t have the opportunity or the luxury of social distance from working remotely, who can’t take a car to work or have to take public transportation. These individuals can't do a lot of the things we want them to do. They can's social distance.

Dr. Alister Martin, an emergency room doctor at Mass General, told Boston 25 News last week, of 12 COVID-19 patients he treated using ventilators within one day shift, the majority of them were people of color from poor neighborhoods in and around Boston.

"I had a woman who I took care of two weeks ago who was a young mother of three, living in a one-bedroom apartment in Dorchester, with her elderly mother," Martin said. "How is she going to self isolate?"

Martin said the pandemic has highlighted the need to create mechanisms in the health care system that protect the most vulnerable.

"I already saw on the front lines how disproportional the effects are for poor people, and if we don't have a system where we help those who are most vulnerable, they're the ones who are going to continue to get sick and the virus will persist," Martin said. "So not only is it the right thing to do; it's best for all of us from a health and safety standpoint."

Betancourt told Boston 25 News access to Telehealth is also restrictive to the poorest population who don't have access to the technology.

Betancourt is a member of the city's new task force.

“We need to figure out ways in which we can mitigate where these hot spots currently exist and prevent the next period of hot spots from occurring,” Betancourt said.