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Multnomah County health officials concerned over rising COVID cases in the African American community

Between April 1-May 25, African Americans were twice as likely to test positive for the virus and 80% more likely to be hospitalized than white people.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Despite vaccine availability for people 12 and older, Multnomah County health officials are concerned about the increase in cases and hospitalizations within the African American community. Lead health officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said this is a signal that the system is not serving Black and African American people adequately. 

"We are seeing Black and African Americans come in sicker and probably later in the course of their illness," Dr. Vines said. "We want to make sure they have a place to go that is welcoming and culturally specific."

Numbers from Multnomah County show between April 1-May 25, African Americans were twice as likely to test positive for the virus, and 80% more likely to be hospitalized than white people. Data also shows vaccination rates for people of African descent are the second lowest in the state, with about 37% with one dose. 

Libra Forde works for Portland nonprofit Self Enhancement, Inc. Forde said she's alarmed by those numbers. 

"It makes me think about my immediate family," Forde said. "I think about my mother, grandmother, I think about my grandfather, I think about my brother, I think about so many people that look like me, it might be their reality."

Self Enhancement, Inc. has been working to provide vaccine access to African Americans. Last summer, they held a COVID-19 testing site. They also held two vaccinations clinics in the spring, where 3,000 people got the shot.

"I think culturally specific planning is important because that makes you think about, culturally, where would someone look for those access points," Forde said. "We at SEI know a lot of people call us for information, that's why we've done these events, because culturally they are going to call us."

SEI is planning more vaccine events this summer. 

Multnomah County's REACH program is working to improve vaccine access. There's a clinic this Saturday at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Northeast Portland.

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