Dr. Abdul El-Sayed explains why that is and encourages us all to remain vigilant against the virus.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Coronavirus infections are rising at rates that haven’t been seen since the onset of the pandemic, as Michigan passes one grim milestone after another rounding out October.

Progressive activist, physician, and epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed studies infectious diseases and how they affect populations. That work is more important than ever as the pandemic changes lives for every Michigander—though more for some than others, his work shows. 

“Our job is to understand the patterns by which disease is caused in groups, with the express purpose of helping people live long, healthy lives—and to do so equitably.” El-Sayed told The ‘Gander.

He has become an outspoken progressive voice advocating for better solutions to community health issues.

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How Does This Happen?

El-Sayed pointed out the soaring discrepancies in coronavirus infection and death rates among Black and brown communities, compared to predominantly white ones. Black Michiganders are nearly twice as likely to contract and die from the coronavirus than their white neighbors.

He says this is a matter of circumstances that affect biology.

“Black and brown Americans tend to die earlier and suffer worse and systematically because of differences in resources, whether that’s access to material resources like income or wealth, or social resources like access to a good school,” he said.

Epidemiology also studies how access—or lack thereof—can shape disease progression within a population. Environmental resources like access to clean water and clean air can also be determining factors for one’s overall risk of contracting a disease like the novel coronavirus.

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Existing health care options can also affect how an infection moves through a group of people. Mental health services can help determine how a population can recover from the damage, personal, and professional economic losses caused by the pandemic. These services can be taxed in Michigan’s larger cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids.

“Some people had to choose between their lives—choosing to stay home—and their livelihoods,” El-Sayed said as he told the story of a high school janitor whose one-way commute to work took two hours and required a bus and walking.

That Michigander could have afforded a car. But he couldn’t afford Detroit’s steep auto insurance rates. According to El-Sayed, community factors like this can lead to higher risk for contracting the coronavirus.

On Oct. 24, Michigan saw its highest case reports since the pandemic began early this year.

“The reality is that when you look at Detroit, it got hit hardest in the earliest days of the pandemic—and even today—because too many people are living precarious lives,” El-Sayed said.

Residents of neighborhoods who have to choose between essentials each month are most susceptible to the virus.

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