COVID-19 in Communities of Color
with Dr. Ala Stanford of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium
Evidence shows that Black Americans are more likely to contract COVID-19 and have complications from it, compared to other demographic groups.
Dr. Ala Stanford, Founder and CEO of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, shares how her organization is working to eliminate racial health disparities.
January 29, 2021
Anderson: The COVID-19 pandemic continues to attack all communities, but some racial and ethnic minority groups are being hit harder than others. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Increasing evidence shows that black people, Latinos, and Native Americans are more likely to contract the virus and have complications from it. Joining me to talk about this and the scope of all of that is Dr. Ala Stanford. She is the founder and the CEO of Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. And, Dr. Stanford, thank you for being here.
Stanford: Of course. Thank you, Tetiana.
Anderson: So, in the spring of 2020, you heard that black people were really being hit disproportionately by COVID-19, but you were not surprised. Why is that?
Stanford: I graduated from medical school 23 years ago, and health disparities and African-Americans in particular having poorer outcomes I learned when I was 21 years old. And to hear it, I wasn't surprised. The difference was, I had been a doc for over two decades. I knew what was needed, and I wasn't just gonna sit and watch the story be told on the media. I wanted to change the narrative that African-Americans have a poorer outcome and do something about it.
Anderson: So to that end, this is really personal for you. I mean, you're black. You're a doctor. You had seen this thing run rampant in your community. How did the Black COVID-19 Consortium really start? I mean, what was happening in those early days? How were you working?
Stanford: So, people kept calling me. I'm from Philly, born and raised. Everyone has my number, it seems. And they were, "Ala, I have symptoms. I think I have coronavirus. I can't get a test. I showed up at this location. They wouldn't let me in because I wasn't old enough. I showed up here. I took the train. Because I wasn't in a car, they wouldn't let me in. I didn't have a note from my doc, but then I can't get appointment with my doc 'cause it's coronavirus. Why can't I get a test?" And I talked to some of my friends, physicians on staff in hospitals, and asked them, what were the challenges, and in essence created a program completely opposite from everything that was happening in the hospital. And I went to all the communities that were most affected and had the highest positivity rates. And that's how we started. And all my friends who are doctors, nurses, medical students that I mentor, college kids that want to be doctors, that was and to a large part is still the consortium. And everyone did it for not one cent. No one was being paid. People gave of their time because they wanted to see the disparities change, as well.
Anderson: And this is something that you actually started with your own money. This is how important fighting COVID-19 was to you. That was then. How has the operation grown since you started?
Stanford: So it grew from the first day. We were in a van driving from house to house for people who had registered online, doing their test on the sidewalk in front of their house, getting back in the van, and driving to the next house. We subsequently moved to working with churches, faith-based organizations, and testing in parking lots. We have now grown to about 75 employees. Back then, there were about 10 or 12 of us. Everything used to be manual. Now it's all electronic. People from Texas and Ohio and New York and Maryland and Illinois and Alabama, Tennessee are reaching out, asking for our consulting services so that they can emulate the model we've created in Philadelphia. And since we've now administered the vaccine, I'm very proud of what we've accomplished in less than a year. But there's still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Anderson: Certainly. Huge, huge gains. There's a phenomenon I want to ask you about among COVID-19 survivors. It's the long-hauler syndrome. Explain what that is and talk about the concerns that you might have with that among the black community, where access to healthcare can already be difficult and questionable in some areas.
Stanford: You know, Tetiana, it's an excellent point, because even when we watch on the news, everything is measured as the end point being death. That is, of course, the worst possible outcome. But there's all these folks in between that are not necessarily 75 and up, but they're like 35 to 65, that are still working, that are your face-front employees keeping the country working and exposed to the public every single day. And when those folks get coronavirus, they don't always die, but they can't go back to work because they're still short of breath, their body is still achy, they have constant headaches that don't allow them to concentrate. And those are the long haulers. And so if you, in fact, had a comorbid condition and you had coronavirus, well, now your diabetes, your glucose levels may be out of whack. Maybe now your hypertension, your blood pressures may be low, may be high as you're still combating this systemic illness that did not kill you, but it's still affecting you that you can't provide for your family. And because there are these comorbid conditions or preexisting health conditions in many African-Americans, it exacerbates the impact even when you're no longer with coronavirus. And the bigger part or even to add to that, many African-Americans may not have a primary care doctor and only go to the doctor when they're very ill. And that is all predicated on past experiences and historical implications. And now in the midst of COVID, where all the resources are going towards treating people with coronavirus and the symptoms of coronavirus, you couldn't get a primary care appointment anyway. So you've got to triage who's very, very sick and who's kind of sick. And after you've had COVID and you're a long hauler, you're kind of sick, but you still can't function the way you used to. So it really puts folks in a tough spot of not feeling well and also not being able to provide for their families.
Anderson: So based on all of your experience, what's the one thing you would tell the public about coronavirus? What's the one sort of quick piece of advice you want to leave us with?
Stanford: I would say it's unfortunate that this came upon us and we were not prepared and ravaged through our nation, but to mitigate it, now we've got the vaccine, and it's coming soon that everyone will be eligible. But until we get there, still the good hand hygiene, the social distancing, the wearing your masks, not inviting other folks who don't live in your home to be with you are still public health measures that will reduce the case numbers, the hospitalizations, and ultimately the deaths. And what I would say is the trajectory or the number of cases can also be impacted just as greatly with everyone focusing on themselves as much as you focus on a person you don't know, 'cause when you wear a mask, it helps you. It also helps someone else. And so I would say until you get the vaccine and even after you get the vaccine, please practice the public health measures. This is finite. It will not last forever. But we want to be able to talk about it a year from now and say, "Man, that pandemic was something, huh?" And how we get to that is the public health measures and really evaluating getting your vaccine.
Anderson: Sage advice. If people want to know more about the consortium, what's the website?
Stanford: So www.blackdoctorsconsortium. I think you can see some of it over my shoulder. We also have a Facebook page, Instagram. You can also look for me, Dr. Ala Stanford. Last I checked, I was the only Ala Stanford in the United States. So I'm easy to find. And, yeah, we have a lot of informational materials and also very uplifting things on our website.
Anderson: Dr. Ala Stanford, the founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, thanks for being here.
Stanford: Thank you so much, Tetiana. Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, as always, be sure to log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.