News

Are Black People Immune To Coronavirus: How A Joke Turned Into A Believable Myth

Separating what is true and false in regards to Black people and the Coronavirus.

COVID-19, better known as the Coronavirus, has become a crisis in the United States since initial reporting on the respiratory virus started in January 2020. First discovered in China in December last year, the Coronavirus has since made its way throughout the world, with cases popping up in Italy (10,149 cases and 631 deaths), Iran (9,000 cases and 354 deaths), France (1,606 cases and 16 deaths), Spain (2,020 cases and 10 deaths), the United States (1,232 cases and 37 deaths) and others at time of press.

A lot is already known about the virus courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): what it is, how it spreads, its symptoms, and ways to prevent it. Although there is valid information being shared about the virus through the media, there are also rumors surrounding it too, specifically the idea that Black people are immune to it.

Here’s what to know about the Coronavirus via the CDC, as well as break down how the notion of Black people being immune to the virus transformed from a joke to a believable myth.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a respiratory illness, also known as COVID-19, that can spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. This strain is believed to have emerged from an animal source and was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) are also types of Coronaviruses, but this current version of the virus is a different strain. It’s unknown at this point if the new virus is as severe or as contagious as SARS.

How does the Coronavirus spread?

The virus spreads from person to person; the main way it is thought to spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet) through respiratory droplets produced when a sick person coughs or sneezes. It also may be possible that someone can get Coronavirus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. (It’s unknown how long the virus can survive on surfaces outside of the body.)

How long does it take for someone to get sick?

The period of time in which it takes a person being infected with the virus to when they start showing symptoms is estimated to be from 1-14 days, and most commonly around five days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

What are the symptoms of the Coronavirus?

Those infected have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. The illness can also cause body aches, sore throat, vomiting, and diarrhea. Patients with severe complications from the virus have had pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure, and death. However, it is important to note that there have been some people who’ve tested positive for the virus but haven’t experienced any symptoms or signs of illness, a condition which is defined as being asymptomatic.

How do you prevent getting Coronavirus?

The simplest way to protect yourself from getting the virus is to wash your hands — effectively and properly. Wet them with clean water, then apply soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds, before rinsing and drying with a clean towel. It’s also recommended that you wash hands with soap and water before eating, after using the bathroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and before and after caring for a sick friend or a family member. Lastly, if you’re somewhere where soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. A hand sanitizer shortage has occurred as a result of the virus, leading some to sell it for exorbitant amounts on eBay (the website has since banned the sale of face masks and hand sanitizer) or make their own with vodka (this may not be effective considering most liquor is usually 40% alcohol).

The Wu-Tang Clan has also released its own list of tips to “Protect Ya Neck against the Coronavirus.”

Can a face mask protect you from Coronavirus?

Although WHO initially recommended that only people who are infected with the virus or people that are looking after those infected should wear a mask, the CDC is now recommending that everyone wear homemade face coverings in public to help curtail the spread of the virus.

Is there a vaccine for the Coronavirus?

No, but the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases may begin clinical trials on a vaccine within weeks. However, the vaccine would not be available for at least another year.

Is there a treatment for the Coronavirus?

No, but there are clinical trials happening with an antiviral drug called remdesivir, which was originally developed for possible treatment of Ebola. The drug has previously shown promise in treating other coronaviruses such as SARS, so the hope is that it’ll be a possible treatment for this current Coronavirus.

Do disinfectants kill the Coronavirus?

Yes. Anyone exposed to a person with the virus should clean all “high-touch” surfaces, such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. According to the CDC, cleaning agents can include a household disinfectant with a label that says “EPA-approved.”

Who is getting sick from the Coronavirus?

According to WHO, people who are over the age of 60 are at a higher risk of developing a severe case of the virus. The highest death rate is in people above the age of 80. People who also have chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, or diabetes are also more likely to get very sick or die from the virus. Both older people and/or immunocompromised people are most vulnerable when it comes to the virus. According to Mollette, immunocompromised means “that basically your immune system is not able to fight off infections.”

“…those who are immunocompromised, they may not have the ability to fight off or ward off a number of infections, and therefore, that makes them be at more risk for other types of infections,” Mollette explained.

However, children don’t appear to get sick, with STAT News noting that zero children in Wuhan (where the virus first appeared) had contracted the virus through mid-January. As for those in between who are young and healthy, it’s unlikely that they’ll get severely ill from the virus. China CDC reported that the fatality rate was 1.3% in 50-somethings, 0.4% in 40-somethings, and 0.2% in people 10 to 39, while the fatality rate was 14.8% in people 80 or older.

This question now brings us to…

Is it true that Black people can’t get Conronavirus?

No, absolutely not. I wish it were the case but, unfortunately, it’s not. Initially, this idea started off as a joke, likely through a report that came on March 1 about the low Coronavirus rate in Africa. Although cases have been reported in 11 countries since that initial report — it appears Egypt has been hit the worst by the virus with 59 cases — Africa’s rate still remains low. Searching “Coronavirus Black People” on Twitter will show how the jokes have persisted throughout the month, with the tweets mocking our over-reliance on ginger ale to combat illness, highlighting how Black people have given the virus more cool and less abrasive-sounding nicknames (“The Rona,” “The Roni”), and acknowledging that no one Black had tested positive for the virus yet.

Well, turns out that last month a Black man from Cameroon named Kem Senou Pavel Daryl had contracted the virus while living in the Chinese city of Jingzhou. The 21-year-old student became the first African person known to be infected with the deadly coronavirus, and the first to recover from it. He was treated with antibiotics and drugs normally used to treat HIV patients and was put in isolation for 13 days in a local Chinese hospital.

A story that should’ve ended there ultimately became the source for fake news, as two websites, in particular, changed Daryl’s story and spread harmful misinformation in the process. First, there was the African Daily Mail, who published the story “The black African student escaped coronavirus” on February 13. (It has since been deleted.) The report included the claim that “Chinese doctors have confirmed that he remained alive because he has black skin, the antibodies of a black are 3 times strong, powerful, and resistant as that of a white.” After that, came a report from CityScrollz, who published the story “Chinese Doctors Confirmed African Blood Genetic Composition Resist Coronavirus After Student Cured” on February 14. (It has since been deleted.) The story includes false reporting throughout, including the notion that Chinese doctors said Daryl “stayed alive because of his blood genetic composition which is mainly found in the genetic composition of sub-Saharan Africans.” The report also includes the same claim of Black skin having stronger antibodies than white skin that appeared in the Daily Mail‘s report.

Then came another misleading report from The Zambian Observer, who published the story “Chinese Doctor Says African Skin Resists Coronavirus” on February 16. The Observer report copies CityScrollz’s report word for word, with the only change being its headline. The report is still available to read on the website.

Both stories have since been proven to be false. On February 15, the global news agency AFP spoke with Professor Amadou Alpha Sall — director of the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, a biomedical research center that is currently overseeing suspected cases of the coronavirus in Africa — to fact check if Black people are more resistant to the coronavirus.

Sall said that the claim is “false information,” and that “There’s no scientific evidence to support this rumor.”

Alongside the AFP, Snopes has also confirmed that the claims are false.

Still, the idea that Black people are resistant to the virus managed to circulate throughout social media, appearing on personal Facebook profile pages (one post, which has since been deleted, had been shared over 2,000 times since first being published on February 11) and Facebook groups, as well as Twitter and Instagram.

Initially, athletes like Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell had tested positive for the coronavirus. Since then, other Black public figures — Idris Elba, Kevin Durant, Slim Thug, Scarface and others (a more comprehensive list of other who have tested positive for the coronavirus can be viewed below) — as well as Black people throughout the United States have not only contracted the virus, but have died from it. Last month, a public health expert stated that Black people are at greater risk of death from coronavirus, and it feels as if that warning has become a reality in April. Countless reports revealing the statistics of Black people who have died from the virus have popped up in Chicago and Milwaukee, as well as states like Louisiana and Michigan.

 

As the above tweet points out, Black people make up either less than, or a little over, a fourth of the populations of some of these places. And yet, they make up a majority of the deaths that are happening. The statistics are indicative of the inequalities Black people are enduring during this pandemic. How they’re likely uninsured; likely to have existing health conditions; likely to be denied testing and treatment; and likely to be holding jobs that don’t allow them to work from home.  Even something as minute as grocery shopping while wearing a surgical mask has presented problems for some Black people. If there’s anything to take from this early data, it’s that Black people are going to be hit hardest by the coronavirus, and it’s unfortunately going to get worse before it gets better.

So, with that said — please try and take care of yourself, and wash your damn hands.

Notable Black public figures who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus

Rudy Gobert

Donovan Mitchell

Idris Elba

Christian Wood

Kevin Durant

Slim Thug

Scarface

Fred The Godson

Lil Rodney C

Elijah C. Watson

Elijah Watson serves as Okayplayer's News & Culture Editor. When he's not writing he's listening to Sade and crying or watching My Hero Academia with his partner.

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Elijah C. Watson

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