BUFFALO, N.Y. — Since he first heard about COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus, and how quickly it is spreading among different communities, Reverend George Nicholas says he's been concerned about what an outbreak would mean for the people in his community.
Nicholas is the pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church on Masten Avenue in Buffalo. He's also a member of the African American Health Equity Task Force. The group is made up of community leaders and doctors who are working to address the root causes of the health disparities plaguing communities of color in Buffalo and Erie County.
Nicholas has been helping spearhead the group's efforts to address health concerns for people of color. He told 2 On Your Side's Karys Belger that he's worried the COVID-19 pandemic will be especially devastating to a community that's already dealing with long-standing health concerns.
"We have to be really proactive about this. We have to not just think well whatever happens in the entire region is gonna help everybody because that was not happening before all this as it relates to public health," he said.
Nicholas referenced the Erie County Community Health Assessment that was released in 2019. The report stated, among other things, African Americans in Erie County live five fewer years than whites. Nicholas said the reason for this is lack of access to resources like regular healthcare.
Nicholas says it's logical to think that the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate these statistics. He also says the way to beat this is to make sure those communities that are already vulnerable have access to the same resources as other communities.
"There are folks that have skills and gifts to help out in this process and we wanna make sure that we have access and the resources to address this pandemic."
Nicholas also said that he understands that there is a lack of resources in communities all over Western New York but he hopes that there will be an effort to make things like tests and medical care more accessible. When asked what solutions he has in mind, he suggested opening mobile test and medical care centers in neighborhoods where there is a lack of access to regular transportation.
2 On Your Side reached out to the Erie County Department of Health and asked what people who do not have regular access to healthcare should do if they are concerned about potentially contracting the virus.
An email from a representative in the Departments said the following.
Our reminder for all Erie County residents still applies: monitor yourself for symptoms of fever (100.4 degrees or higher) and cough or shortness of breath. Anyone who has symptoms needs to isolate themselves in their home and away from others, especially if others in their household are elderly or have chronic health conditions. Practice social and physical distancing. Wash hands frequently with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects. The "Stay home, stop the spread, save lives” message that we see from NYS applies to all of us.
Anyone who develops trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, bluish lips or face or other severe or concerning symptoms needs to call 9-1-1 or contact a medical provider immediately for medical advice. Before seeking health care at an urgent care center or emergency department, call ahead to let that facility know of your condition. They will give you guidance on how to access care without exposing their health care workers or individuals in their facility to this illness.