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Baltimore City plans coronavirus ad campaign to combat myth that African American residents are immune

Baltimore officials are planning a targeted ad campaign to reach the city’s black residents in hopes of combating rumors that black people cannot get the new coronavirus. This April 7, 2020, photo shows the Baltimore Convention Center, which has been turned into a field hospital amid a surge of coronavirus cases in the state.
Baltimore officials are planning a targeted ad campaign to reach the city’s black residents in hopes of combating rumors that black people cannot get the new coronavirus. This April 7, 2020, photo shows the Baltimore Convention Center, which has been turned into a field hospital amid a surge of coronavirus cases in the state. (Luke Broadwater/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore officials are planning a targeted ad campaign to reach the city’s black residents in hopes of combating rumors that black people cannot get the new coronavirus, the city’s health commissioner announced Tuesday.

During a news conference at City Hall, Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said Baltimore officials are concerned about “persistent” rumors that the coronavirus is not impacting the city’s black population when the reverse is true. She said black residents account for more of Maryland’s confirmed cases than other populations, and African Americans have a higher mortality rate from the disease.

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According to the latest data from the state health department, 49% of the cases where race is known are among black residents, compared with 35% for whites, while the state’s overall population is about 30% black. African Americans account for just more than half of the deaths where race is known.

In response, Baltimore plans to post “culturally relevant signage” — beyond social media and traditional advertising — in locations around the city where officials believe some black residents are gathering, despite a statewide stay-at-home order, Dzirasa said. Locations for the signs will include bus stops, corner stores and other “hot spots.”

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As of Tuesday, there were 962 reported cases of COVID-19 in Baltimore and 29 deaths as a result, according to Maryland Department of Health data. The virus has killed 302 people statewide and sickened more than 9,400.

Dzirasa also said Tuesday that city officials continue to look for locations to open temporary coronavirus testing sites in the city. Locations in the city’s east and west sides are under consideration because that’s where some of the highest number of cases have been reported thus far, she said.

“Our goal will be to ensure that all residents, especially those without access to a car, can receive testing in their local community,” she said.

Over the weekend, state officials began releasing data on the pandemic by ZIP code, making it easier to see what areas have been hardest hit.

Last week, Baltimore’s first drive-thru site opened at Pimlico Race Course in the Nothwest Baltimore’s 21215 ZIP code, the hardest hit ZIP code in the city. Four out of five of that area’s residents are black.

Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young initially said the Pimlico site would be able to run 50 tests per day, but the center has nearly doubled that. Tests were conducted on 96 people Friday, and another 115 were scheduled for Tuesday, Dzirasa said. The site was closed Monday due to bad weather.

Young also said Tuesday that he is considering a policy requiring people to cover their faces in the city when in public to help combat the spread of the virus. Young cautioned that not every city resident will be able to afford a mask, nor can the city provide them.

“What we’re looking at is to get a policy that would say ‘face covering while you’re in public,’” he said, noting an announcement may come Friday on such a policy.

Additionally, Young said he has been in contact with the Maryland Transit Administration to discuss limiting the number of people on city buses. As the service has limited its routes, an unhealthy number of people have been riding buses together, he said.

“We don’t want people all crammed up on the bus, elbow to elbow,” he said.

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