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ST. LOUIS, Mo.- When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Jason Purnell with Health Equity Works at Washington University says the African American community was ripe for this particular virus.

He says that’s because of the ways in which resources are not equitably distributed through a region like St. Louis and other metro regions like it.

He explained to FOX2Now that there are a number of factors for the death disparity. He says among them are the fact that African Americans are over-represented in what are now being called essential jobs.

Also, he said there is a long legacy of residential segregation in places like St. Louis, less access to affordable housing, less access to quality housing, more crowding in housing, and less of an ability to isolate and quarantine.

Dr. Purnell has been looking at health disparities for many years. He was the principal investigators on Health Equity Work’s 2014 For the Sake for All report.

One of the big findings from that report was that there is an 18 year gap in life expectancy between those born in the 63106 ZIP Code in North St. Louis and the 63105 ZIP Code in Clayton.

“That is as much time as it takes for a child to be born and graduate from high school as a difference in life expectancy,” explained Purnell.

He said there is a chance those numbers changed slightly over the years but still shows a troubling issue. He said it’s clear it is not the fault of the child born in that ZIP code.

Dr. Purnell says, “I think St. Louis has been slow to implement a lot of those changes even though a lot of us have been working hard for the past 6 years”

Purnell said some of the roadblocks were that the report came out months before the Michael Brown shooting and the unrest in Ferguson.

“I think there was a lot of rush to get back to normal rather than to address some of the root causes of the unrest and the reason for people’s frustration,” said Purnell.

He says the region has made more progress in awareness of what he calls the social determinants of health and less progress on action.

Purnell said there has been some progress though. He cited the expansion of school-based health care centers as one.

While Purnell doesn’t expect there will be change overnight.

“This is decades, over a century of conscious policy choices that have excluded African Americans from opportunity. At nearly every turn, every avenue of opportunity has been foreclosed,” said Purnell.