220 : Equity & COVID-19 (w/ Dr. Brian Williams)

Zach welcomes Dr. Brian Williams back to the platform on this special Saturday show themed around equity and COVID-19. He graciously shares his perspective on the reality of young black and brown folks continuing to be susceptible to this disease and discusses several sobering statistics that illustrate clear long-standing inequity.

Connect with Dr. Williams via LinkedIn or Twitter, and check out his personal website by clicking here.

Read his Chicago Tribune op-ed titled “COVID-19 and gun violence are devastating black Chicagoans”.

Interested in his podcast Race, Violence & Medicine? Follow this link to listen on a variety of platforms.

Find out how the CDC suggests you wash your hands by clicking here.

Help food banks respond to COVID-19. Learn more at FeedingAmerica.org.


Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and man, you know, I know that this is just a really unique time–extraordinary times, strange, different times, and, you know, we want to make sure that, you know, typically you know that we post evergreen content, right? Like, we’re typically talking about navigating the workplace, but if you’ve looked around you would know that the workplace has been irreparably changed, right? And every day, like, we’re dealing with something new and shifting because of this pandemic, and we would be remiss if we did not continue to try to talk about it more directly. And so with that being said, I’m really excited because we actually have Dr. Williams back on the show. Dr. Williams, how are you doing?

Dr. Williams: I’m doing well, Zach. Thanks for having me back on the show again. Always a pleasure.

Zach: First of all, you know, the pleasure is ours and the honor is ours. Really thankful and excited that you’re here. You know, a lot has changed, right, since the last time that you were on the platform, since you were on Living Corporate. First of all I just want to check in with you. How are you doing?

Dr. Williams: I’m doing–I’m doing well, you know? It’s a busy team. It’s an [exciting?] time for health care and for society. I’m sure people are very well aware of the challenges within the health care community right now dealing with the coronavirus, particularly in some hot spots currently, like New York City, Washington state, Louisiana. But where I’m at in Chicago we are certainly seeing an influx of patients, but we are within our capacity still, and more importantly the morale is still high amongst those of us on the front lines. So that especially inspires me every day, to know that, you know, even though [?] fear conditions, we are still in this together and morale is still high.

Zach: You know, it’s scary, because I remember when the news first came out, right, it was almost presented like, “Hey, this is gonna be something that really primarily just seriously impacts older–” I mean, like, senior citizens in this country, and frankly older senior citizens, right, and then as data continued to come in we started seeing young–like, first of all, more folks were falling victim to this disease than was initially reported and that the victims of this disease continued to get younger and younger AND that black and brown folks are more at risk to not only catch but die from this disease, and so–you know, you and I have had conversations before, last time you were on this podcast and then also of course offline, we’ve talked about healthcare inequity, and I’m curious to know and get your perspective on that, on the reality of black and brown folks, young black and brown folks, continuing to be susceptible to this disease.

Dr. Williams: Yeah, Zach. What you just said–I’m listening to you talk, and, you know, it seems like a lifetime ago when all that was happening, when they said–you know, I use “they” in air quotes–that it was just gonna be elderly people and sick people that were dying from this disease. There’s been so much that has happened in just the past few months that I had forgotten that’s where we began, when coronavirus–you know, we talked about it hitting the U.S. shores. So, you know, I’m going back through my–you know, rewinding the tape in my head about this evolution, and I remember that. Even someone like me, who works in health care and has training and, you know, a specialized skill set, reviewing information that was coming out of Italy and Spain and China to be prepared for it coming to the U.S., and I remember that narrative that it was elderly people, that it was people who had pre-existing conditions, and in the US what we’re finding out–just within the past couple of weeks really–is the profound impact it is having on black communities across the country, and intuitively I knew that black Americans would suffer from this disease. What I found distressing was when the numbers started coming out of certain locations. Louisiana reported a death rate of–70% of the deaths from coronavirus were black Americans. In my city of Chicago, despite representing 30% of the population, [70%?] of the deaths were black Americans. Where else? I think Milwaukee had a 70% death rate as well, Michigan. So all of these places were showing, like, [?] the general population, black Americans were overrepresented in the deaths from coronavirus, but until that point, if you didn’t know that or weren’t looking at that, you would have thought that the face of the disease was not black. People who were getting infected and dying were not black. The people in health care who were on the front lines and caring for these patients were not black. But I still–I knew better. You know, I’m sure [?]. I’m like, “Look, black people are getting affected also. Black folks are dying. In fact, they’re dying at a rate that exceeds the general population, and there are black health care workers in this fight as well,” and that did not–I feel did not become a part of the wider narrative [?] a few weeks ago. Now the question is why is that? For me the answer is obvious, right, that we’ve had this systemic inequity that is long-standing, and it is so strongly rooted into our society that of course when there is a crisis that happens individuals already living on the margins are going to suffer greatly, and in this country black Americans are represented in that group that are living on the margins in so many different ways. Health care, education, income inequality, and the list goes on and on, but they’re all intersecting right now with the coronavirus because it has impacted so many sectors of society. So now with this crisis we have so many sick black Americans and so many that are dying. We can’t not look at ourselves in the mirror as a country and say, “What are we going to do next?” Not say “Why is this happening?” Because we know why, right? We’ve known this for a long time. What are we going to do with this opportunity to close the gaps in our society that are allowing so many black Americans to suffer right now during this pandemic? And that’s what really keeps me awake at night, is “Okay, post-pandemic, what can I do to help close those gaps to ensure this doesn’t happen again? I recognize I’m a doctor, I’m treating patients, but I’m looking beyond that. I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to take my experience and expertise to do something that impacts larger populations in a positive way so we stop having to have this discussion every time that there is a national or even, you know, regional crisis that impacts large populations of Americans.”

Zach: You know, it’s heartbreaking too. Like you were just talking about, those death rates being that high, and I’m reminded of your op-ed and just the fact that, like you said, there’s a 70% death rate in Chicago as well as in New Orleans and Milwaukee as well. Like, in these areas we’re just overrepresented when it comes to those who have fallen victim to this virus, and I’m curious to know, what thoughts do you have or points of advice today do you have for black and brown folks, especially black–I mean, this impacts black and brown folks at work too, right? Like, in fact, the black and brown folks who are susceptible to–[?] the folks who are considered essential workers who don’t have the privilege to stay at home, but I can also say that I have colleagues and friends who have caught coronavirus and none of them have passed away, so thank God for that, but, you know, who have gotten these symptoms, and they’re on the mend, but I would imagine a lot of these companies, even for some of the companies for folks that are allowing some of their employees to work at home, I would imagine that those statistics aren’t exclusive to the folks who are having to go outside, right? Like, I would imagine that there are companies if when they–when all this is said and done and companies look at their employees who caught coronavirus, that they’re gonna see that that data, that trend, continues, even within their respective companies. I’m curious to know what advice do you have for black and brown employees to continue to make sure that they stay safe?

Dr. Williams: Well, the first thing is–regarding the statistics that we have, let’s pause, ’cause you said some things there that I think are very important to [tease?] out. You mentioned–some of the statistics you mentioned were in regards to cities and some were about states. So what we do not have is comprehensive, national demographic data about what is happening with coronavirus. Is Chicago representative of the state of Illinois? We do not know. You know, you mentioned Louisiana, but we actually have the entire state of Louisiana. They reported their state-wide number. Is New York City representative of New York state? We do not know. We can make some assumptions, but really, as scientists, we want to be driven by the science. We want to be driven by the numbers that we can point to and say, “Yes, this is what’s happening.” So we do not have that data. Secondly, the data we do have is based upon inadequate testing, right? We do not have enough tests to test segments of the population that we want to test. So where you are in Dallas, I think the last–I saw that they’re testing 1,000 people a day [?]. So I mean, we’re in a country of 355 million people. So we’re just, you know, barely scratching the surface of who we can test. So we can not really know who out there is infected with coronavirus. We do not have comprehensive data about who has died from coronavirus. You know, many people have died from coronavirus who we didn’t even know they had coronavirus. We just had a story coming out of California that they’ve identified their first coronavirus death, and it was a couple weeks earlier than what they thought. So those numbers that we keep talking about, we have to get better comprehensive national data. So you have [?] actually happening now. You talked about things we can do. There are short-term goals and then there are long-term goals. So in the short-term, it is “What can we do to protect public health in the midst of this crisis and save as many lives as possible?” From a public health standpoint, which will in turn have an economic impact. What can we do about that? And you got to start with having the information we as health care workers and public health experts can use to deploy our resources in the most efficient manner, to ensure that we can provide the greatest number of goods to the greatest number of patients, to ensure that we can minimize the death toll from this disease. That’s short-term. Like, we’re in it right now. [?] we can deploy resources to win the current battle. In the long-term, it’s taking that same information, taking our results and the things we did, and learning from our experience and moving forward and saying, “Okay, what are we going to do now with what we’ve learned to close these gaps in society or address these inquities that fueled this impact on communities of color,” you know? Black Americans, brown Americans, and, you know, Native Americans as well. There’s some data trickling out right now about the impact on Native Americans. And I don’t pretend to be the expert on all marginalized communities as far as individual suffering. I don’t compare and contrast, but the reality is that we are all united by this virus. It has shown that it has zero respect for your race, your ethnicity, your social status. We’ve had heads of state that have been infected. We’ve had homeless people who were infected. It doesn’t care what county you live in, what state. I mean, it is impacting everyone in some way, directly or indirectly. So we can [?]–look, we are all more alike than we are different in many ways, and we can come together to ensure that even our most vulnerable people can weather a crisis like this. There’s no reason why we cannot do that. I feel we have the resources in the country, but also it’s a moral imperative for us to manifest all these ideals that are professed in the U.S. Constitution about life and liberty, you know? So let’s look at this crisis and say, “Yes, this is a horrible time. We got here due to policies that were intentional about marginalizing and separating communities of color. Let’s rework our society to be inclusive of everyone, because it impacts everyone in some form,” like I said, directly or indirectly.

Zach: Dr. Williams, you know it’s always a pleasure to have you on. You know, before I let you go, I just want to thank you.

Dr. Williams: That was it? [?] I’m just getting worked up! [both laugh]

Zach: No, listen. I know that you’re running, and I want to respect your time. I want to respect all of the effort and hard work that you’re doing, you and all of the health care workers are doing, day in and day out to make sure that we stay safe, you know, every day. You know, I’m reading in the news–we’re all seeing in the news about health care workers, physicians, nurses, talking about losing their patients or just the 12-hour shifts that they’ve been running and just being just completely exhausted, and so I don’t take it lightly that you took the time to be on Living Corporate. You know, I personally–I pray for you, that you continue to stay safe, and I just want to thank you again. Thank you so much.

Dr. Williams: Zach, it was a pleasure being on, and I’m always happy to come back any time you want me. And I appreciate the prayers and the well wishes. Yes, we are. We are tired, but rest assured that–at least where I’m at–the morale is still high. People are working together. We’re all committed to serving humanity for the [rest?] of this crisis, and we appreciate the accolades.

Zach: Awesome. Well, look, we’re gonna catch you soon. Let’s make sure that–I definitely want to have you back. Let’s see if maybe we can do a post-check, you know, a little bit later as we continue, but, you know, you’re our resident–you’re our resident on a lot of things, but we need you.

Dr. Williams: Can I tell your folks where to reach me?

Zach: Yeah.

Dr. Williams: If they want, they can–I’m most active on Twitter @BHWilliamsMD, but you can also go to my website BrianWilliamsMD.com, and that has email and all that, social media tags, but I’m happy to interact with anybody.

Zach: That’s awesome. So what we’re gonna make sure to do is we’re gonna put your latest op-ed in the Chicago Tribune talking about systemic health care inequity in Chicago. We’re gonna make sure to put your email and your social media handle and all of the information in the show notes, and we’ll catch you next time.

Dr. Williams: Perfect. All right, Zach. Stay safe. This is far from over. Good luck to you and your family.

Zach: Yes, sir. Thank you. Same to you. Bye-bye.

Dr. Williams: Bye.

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