COVID-19 & Body Burden: How Cities Like Flint & Detroit are Among the Most at Risk

Apr 1, 2020 | BM4F Spotlights, Uncategorized, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 0 comments

Jasmine Hall, MS, Neuropsychiatric Epidemiology

This global pandemic forces America to reckon with the abhorrent social and health inequities. Low-income communities of color suffer disproportionately from lead poisoning in America and stand to be devastated by COVID-19.  As leaders respond to the global pandemic, special resources should be allocated to test, treat, and provide communication and services in communities like Flint, Detroit, Newark, and DC. Lead is a well-studied neurotoxin that impacts neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems and can have lasting impacts on children’s learning. As COVID-19 wreaks havoc, claiming over 52,000 lives to date, we must be proactive in mitigating the impact on these communities by intervening on social determinants of health.

Why is this important in these communities?

1) Some lead-related conditions are likely to increase risk of COVID-19 complications.

Low-income communities experience the highest incidence of lead poisoning in the nation and are likely to suffer higher morbidity and mortality from COVID-19. Many of the pre-existing conditions that put you at high risk of COVID-19 complications (compromised immune systems, heart conditions, neurologic conditions, diabetes, renal failure,) are created or worsened through lead exposure or are common in low-income individuals. Detroit,  a low-income, lead-exposed, majority Black city has emerged as an epicenter of COVID-19 with no sign of slowing down.


Jasmine Hall speaking at a meeting sponsored by the Genesee County Democratic Black Caucus at the UAW Local 651 (Photo Credit: 4thDownFilms.com)

2) Health disparities and social inequalities will undoubtedly be exacerbated with COVID-19

Inequalities will be exacerbated during this pandemic and intervening on complex and related social determinants of health is necessary now and beyond the pandemic. For many Americans, the crisis dealt a devastating blow to personal finances right away. Median household income in Flint and Detroit is just under $30,000 with over 35% of the population living in poverty. Lack of access to a primary care physician, lack of insurance to cover the cost of testing and treatment, and medical racism make healthcare access more disparate. The educational achievement gap will widen as distance learning is a huge hurdle for school districts and parents in poor communities. Years after the water crisis began, Flint Schools moved to a year-round balanced calendar and many students do not yet have tools at home to succeed in distance learning leading into the summer, meaning even more of their school year may be lost. Resources to fight violence, homelessness, and food insecurity are also needed right now, especially in high-risk populations. Finally, in lead-exposed communities, more frequent handwashing, disinfecting or cleaning, and frequently showering at home is a challenge as many people do not have access to clean water they can trust.  

Flint Children enjoying candy-filled Easter Eggs during Black Millennials 4 Flint’s 2nd Annual Flint Weekend of Service 2017 (Photo Credit: LaTricea Adams)

3) Social distancing creates unique and multifaceted communication challenges

In a crisis of this nature, resources must support accessible communication to low-income communities of color. Public health entities have unique barriers to communication in communities like Flint, Mich. where there exists deep and unresolved mistrust of government. Lead exposed communities also face serious intellectual deficits and relatively low literacy levels while most communication is written and done so in a single language. Further, as technology makes communication while social distancing easier for most, our low-income households must be armed with devices, internet access, and knowledge of where to access critical information and resources.

This is the beginning of a very long fight against COVID-19 and we can not lose a day in the fight for justice. We must advocate for a resilience. We must use this opportunity to close gaps in social determinants of health, to bridge communication, and to save lives in some of America’s most vulnerable communities.

Jasmine Hall is a Flint Native, #BlackGirlMagic Epidemiologist and graduate of Harvard University’s Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is also a member of the 2019-20 Cohort of the Black Millennials 4 Flint Lead Prevention Ambassador Leadership Program. Follow Jasmine Hall on Twitter @_AccordingtoJAS. Click here to learn more about Black Millennials 4 Flint’s Lead Prevention Ambassador Program.

Edited 4/3/2020

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