Smart Talk Friday: African Americans face disproportionate risk of COVID-19; Battle brewing over the state’s lockdown

African Americans are more likely to encounter the coronavirus, less likely to be tested for it, and more likely to die from it. They are also less likely to have jobs that allow them to work from home, to have high-speed internet to access telemedicine and online education, and to live in the types of low-density residential environments most conducive to social distancing.

These realities are fueled by what panelists at a state Senate hearing last week said is a pandemic of racism that has afflicted American public policy for decades in areas from education and employment to housing and health care. As a result, these experts say, African Americans face a disproportionate risk both to contract the virus and to have underlying health conditions that exacerbate its effect.

Appearing on Smart Talk Friday is state Sen. Art Haywood, a Democrat who represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties and was one of the senators to call for last week’s hearing, as well as two of the experts who testified: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia pediatric attending physician and National Medical Association officer Dr. Priscilla Mpasi, MD, and former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Calvin Johnson, MD.

A legal battle is brewing in Pennsylvania over the Disaster Declaration by Governor Tom Wolf that effectively shut down the state to manage the coronavirus outbreak.

Republican lawmakers say the declaration has damaged the Pennsylvania economy unnecessarily because restrictions were placed over the entire state, rather than in counties with large outbreaks. Wolf did extend the emergency declaration earlier this month, and while Republicans have conceded that the declaration was warranted in the early days of the crisis, it is not any longer. They are demanding an immediate repeal, but Wolf plans to extend the state of emergency, along with dozens of emergency executive orders that came after.

Joining Smart Talk to analyze how the fight may play out in the court is state and federal constitutional law expert Bruce Ledewitz, J.D., professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law. Duquesne University Law School offers a resource for information on the text, history and meaning of the Pennsylvania Constitution.