Dennis Bannister’s daughter, Demi, was the first to die.
She was only 28, a beloved third-grade teacher who likely caught the virus during a training at her Columbia, S.C., school district. Doctors diagnosed her with a bladder infection, and by the time they realized their mistake, it was too late. Not long after, the family’s matriarch, Shirley, 57, complained of difficulty breathing. She was twice sent home from the emergency room before returning by ambulance and being put on a ventilator. She died soon after.
Which left Dennis Bannister, childless and a widower, sitting on his porch last month, staring at the last of the green leaves and mourning. Why, he pondered, had the virus hit his family so hard, and not just them, but so many African Americans? Was there something that made them particularly vulnerable? Had they gotten the right care?
“Folks think maybe they saw an African American coming in, and they didn’t take them seriously,” reflected Bannister, who was also infected but asymptomatic. “I don’t know. I just pray God will help me find a way to deal with the situation.”
It’s not just grieving relatives who are demanding answers. Nearly nine months after the virus exploded in the United States, and amid big treatment strides, the disease continues to ravage African American and other minority communities with a particular vengeance. Black, Asian, Native American and Hispanic patients still die far more frequently than White patients, even as death rates have plummeted for all races and age groups, according to a Washington Post analysis of records from 5.8 million people who tested positive for the virus from early March through mid-October. [Continue reading…]