The Rev. Javier Castrejón, left, and O’Linda Watkins

The Rev. Javier Castrejón, left, and O’Linda Watkins, president of the Moore County NAACP, at a peace vigil in downtown Southern Pines on June 3, 2020.

People of color have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in Moore County, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

African Americans, who make up 12 percent of the county's total population, accounted for 16 percent of local infections and 36 percent of deaths as of Friday morning. 

While the pandemic has unevenly affected Black communities across North Carolina, the disparity in Moore County is worse than the state overall. Black patients account for about 24 percent of all infections and 34 percent of deaths in the state, where the total population is 22 percent African American.

Ethnicity-level data from NCDHHS show that 19 percent of cases in Moore County involve Hispanic residents, a group that makes up only 7 percent of the county’s population. Even the county’s Asian community, which represents just 1.6 percent of the area’s population, has experienced a disproportionate 2 percent of infections.

O'Linda Watkins, president of the Moore County NAACP, said many of the county’s Black and Hispanic residents can’t afford health insurance and have jobs that can’t be done remotely. Not being able to work from home, she said, puts people of color at a greater risk of exposure to the virus.

“We just want people, especially African Americans, to be safe and to take it seriously,” Watkins said. “Because the population of Moore County is not that diverse, the numbers tell us that we need to be more cautious and safe.”

The Rev. Javier Castrejón of San Juan Diego Mission in Robbins believes that most of the county’s Hispanic patients are contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. 

“I’m talking with them by Facebook or phone or after mass about how we can stop this virus, but they have to work to bring meals to their children,”  Castrejón said. “We are giving food (from our) pantry and meals to the sick families, but other families have to go out for work, and then they get the virus.”

Half the population of Robbins is Hispanic, and the median household income for local families is one of the lowest in Moore County. Castrejón noted that Hispanic residents without American citizenship were ineligible for economic impact payments through the federal CARES Act. 

“They didn’t get a check,” he said. 

Castrejón would like to see COVID-19 testing offered in a location that is more accessible to people in Robbins, which is a 23-minute drive from the nearest testing site. The sentiment was echoed by Watkins, who added that pop-up testing in historically Black communities like West Southern Pines could help address the disparity in cases. 

Watkins also urged members of marginalized communities to wear face coverings in public.

“We are pleading and asking that everyone wear their masks, and if you can’t wear a mask, wear something (over your face) that’s comfortable while you’re in public,” Watkins said. “That’s all we’re asking.”

An analysis of more than 170 observational studies — published earlier this month in the medical journal The Lancet — found that face coverings appear to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, which is transmitted through respiratory droplets that are released when people talk, sneeze or cough. On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a statewide order requiring individuals to wear face coverings in settings where social distancing is not possible.

“Overwhelming evidence that is growing by the week shows that wearing a face covering can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially from people who have it and don’t know it yet,” Cooper said during a news conference announcing the mandate.

Shortly after the executive order took effect on Friday, Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields joined a growing chorus of law enforcement leaders across the state in announcing he would not enforce it. The order, he said, is “unenforceable” and “unconstitutional.”

(6) comments

Michael Hansen

Let us suppose that Mr. Fields operates a carnival ride. He is responsible with enforcing a clearly stated rule that everyone must wear a seat-belt. Let's that he didn't like conflict . . . especially with teenagers (they can be so mean.) Let us suppose further that he knew that children under 80 pounds were more likely to be ejected from this ride without protection. If Mr Fields were to decide that he simply wasn't going to enforce this particular rule because there was no specific punishment specified on the sign. And were he to announce it to entire carnival over loudspeakers.

Well then, tragically, we must consider that a small child *were* to be ejected. Now, who is going to pay? Mr Fields. Yes, in part. The Carnival owner and shareholders? Yes them too . Did his announcement that he wasn't going to enforce it or that there were no specified punishments in the rule shield him any way? No. They do not. He had a job to do. He didn't do it and someone lost a life as a result. That's all a judge would need to know

Michael Hansen

So, if the virus disproportionately affects minority populations and if mask wearing would protect them as well as others . . .and if Sheriff Fields will not enforce it . . . He is not extending equal protection under the law and he and the County (that's us) are liable under tort for the deaths of those whose lives he cost. (And here I was hoping to be able use our tax money for schools.) Either he is longing for the Jim Crow era practice of invoking posse comitatus other thinks we unknowingly elected him both as Sheriff and to decide the Constitution. A one-man Moore County Supreme Court. I think a State Court in Raleigh will hear those Court cases Mr. Fields . .. you want to bet millions, possibly tens of millions of county dollars otherwise?

Kent Misegades

My sons both work in factories. They can not do their work at home. Are they unfairly placed in greater risk of getting the flu? No, it’s their job. They face far greater risks daily in a factory around machinery but accept this and take appropriate precautions. Everyone knows who primarily is at greater risk - the elderly and those with other health conditions. The truth may be unpleasant for some but it remains the truth. As far as the flu’s name is concerned, traditionally they are named after the place where they first occur. Thus Hong Kong flu from 1968, German Measles, etc. Thus Covid-19 would normally be called the Wuhan flu, except that the Chinese government doesn’t like this. Even Bill Maher agrees with with me: “Bill Maher Defends Calling Coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus’”. Variety, April 11th, 2020.

Barbara Misiaszek

How about the Spanish Flu Kent? The last great pandemic. It wasn't from Spain.

John Misiaszek

Comment deleted.
Laurel Holden

This is just a silly comment on this article. One could have just as easily not used a racist term like "Wuhan China flu" and instead acknowledged that there systemic sources of inequality in this nation that play out in public health issues. What is the point to this comment other than to spread racist fear-mongering and perpetuate the idea that the Chinese manufactured this virus?

Matthew Gritzmacher

This graf is the kicker, despite any additional comments from Ms. Watkins:

"O'Linda Watkins, president of the Moore County NAACP, said many of the county’s Black and Hispanic residents can’t afford health insurance and have jobs that can’t be done remotely. Not being able to work from home, she said, puts people of color at a greater risk of exposure to the virus."

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