Today’s guest columnist is Frank McPhillips.
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If you live in a leafy over-the-mountain community, you might think you have nothing to worry about when it comes to COVID-19.
The argument goes like this: the coronavirus won’t bother me because I don’t belong to an at-risk population.
That only happens to “other people”, like poor and disadvantaged minorities, or elderly people, or people who live or work in confined settings, like prisoners and people who work in nursing homes and chicken processing plants.
That’s why data recently made available by the Jefferson County Health Department (JCHD) may surprise a lot of people. The data suggest if you live in Vestavia, Mountain Brook, or Hoover, your chances of contracting COVID-19 are as great, or greater, than they are if you live in downtown or North Birmingham.
Below is a table showing selected data extracted from the JCHD database as of June 26. (The data changes daily) Racial demographics are extracted from the 2010 Census:
|Region||Zip Codes||Neighborhoods||Racial Composition||Infection Rate(per 10K)|
|24||35205||Glen Iris/ 5 Pts||B-32%;W-55%;O-13%||30.90|
|25||35204||No. Birmingham||B-81%; W-15%; O-4%||29.48|
The table above reveals that the infection rate among residents of downtown Birmingham and North Birmingham is significantly lower than virtually all suburban communities, including Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Hewitt-Trussville, and Hoover.
After taking into account the street protests in North Birmingham, where most protesters wore masks but social distancing was rarely observed, the City’s low infection rate may seem all the more surprising.
In Region 25, which includes the Fountain Heights, Smithfield and Norwood neighborhoods of North Birmingham, the rate of infection stands at 29.48. Meanwhile, the infection rate in Region 24 (Birmingham’s Southside, Glen Iris and UAB areas) is 30.90, only marginally higher than in North Birmingham.
The infection rate in Region 2, the heart of Hoover, which includes Bluff Park, Patton Chapel Road and Country Club of Highlands is 53.19. Hoover’s rate is 80% higher than North Birmingham and 72% higher than the Southside of Birmingham.
Likewise, the infection rate of Region 1, where the Riverchase Galleria is located, is 49.87, or 69% higher than North Birmingham and 61% higher than Southside.
Region 6 offers another stark contrast. In the affluent communities of Forest Park, Redmont and Mountain Brook, the rate of infection is 41.96, which is 42% higher than North Birmingham and 36% higher than Southside.
In Region 11, which includes all of Hewitt-Trussville, the infection rate is 40.83, fully 39% higher than North Birmingham and 32% higher than Southside.
An inescapable conclusion from this data is that the coronavirus makes no distinction between black and white America, or urban and suburban America but does distinguish between responsible vs. irresponsible America. Smart policy promoting responsible behavior saves lives.
The City of Birmingham is the only jurisdiction in Jefferson County to enact an ordinance mandating masks to be worn in public. Surrounding municipalities in Jefferson County have not done so, even though infectious disease experts all say that wearing a mask is the single most important action that can reduce the spread of the deadly virus. Communities of color have been especially hard-hit by the virus, so Birmingham acted responsibly by adopting a mask ordinance.
The failure of neighboring municipalities to follow suit is both nonsensical and deeply destructive because it undermines any hope of pursuing a coherent regional strategy against the virus. The Tri-State area surrounding New York City has proven that an aggressive and consistent regional strategy is critical to the defeat of the coronavirus. And, the cornerstone of an effective regional strategy is the adoption of a uniform and mandatory mask ordinance.
Jefferson County has experienced record new cases of COVID-19. On June 26, 149 new cases were reported in the county, shattering the previous daily record. New cases are inevitably followed by a spike in new hospitalizations up to a week or two later, which are then followed by a spike in deaths a short time after that. The only way to interrupt this vicious cycle is to stop human to human transmission. The only way to stop transmission of this highly contagious virus is for the vast majority of people in an area to wear a mask.
As the JCHD data has shown, there is no safe haven from this deadly disease. The coronavirus does not respect geographic boundaries or racial differences. We are all trapped in this pandemic together … and we must fight it together. Wear a mask – and convince your friends and family to do the same!
Frank McPhillips is a recently retired attorney, devoted husband and father of three adult sons. Frank graduated with honors from Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School, and has proudly resided in Birmingham, with his wife Louise, for 40 years. He has served on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations, including Advent Episcopal School, Impact America and Alabama Appleseed.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.