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.”