The Coronavirus might be affecting us all in one way or another, but it seems to be extra dangerous for people of color.
This might not come as a surprise for those of us who are aware of the societal structures that are unable or unwilling to protect those most vulnerable.
But there’s more to consider than just how the virus seems to magically inflict more proportional damage on Black and Latino populations.
In NYC, Blacks and Latinos are twice as likely than whites to die from the virus. According to the NYC department of health as of April 6, Hispanic/Latino populations are experiencing a 34% death rate while only being 29% of the population. Black people have 28% of the death rate but are only 22% of the population.
According to the NYTimes, racial disparities in other states and cities are even worse. When asked about racial disparities and data collection, the White House stated it had not yet begun collecting racial data. The Human Rights Campaign reported that Black communities account for 35% of confirmed cases, 40% of deaths with only 14% of the state population.
The Associated Press also reported that Native American communities have also been hard hit. New Mexico has a Native American population of 11% but Native Americans account for about 37% of the state’s Coronavirus cases.
Mayor De Blasio responded to these numbers with the clear understanding that the underlying issues have long existed. “There are clear inequalities, clear disparities in how this disease is affecting the people of our city,” Mr. De Blasio said.
“The truth is that in so many ways the negative effects of coronavirus — the pain it’s causing, the death it’s causing — tracks with other profound health care disparities that we have seen for years and decades.”
The “Underlying Medical Conditions” argument
The underlying medical conditions argument is a half-truth created to brush over the bigger question of why the Black community suffers from more medical issues. Some may point to food and lifestyle, an argument that essentially blames POC for being responsible for their own health.
This argument conveniently ignores the fact that POCs are more likely to have to live in areas with high pollution, for example, the Bronx, and more likely to live in areas labeled “food deserts” where affordable healthy food is scarce or non-existent.
These contextual facts make it clear that diabetes, asthma, and heart disease can be easily linked to access to healthy environments. The attempt to make a “genetic” argument is laughable when considering also that POCs simply do not have access to health care.
Time and again we hear of new data on how people of color are disproportionately affected by diseases in large part due to human bias and lack of access. Black mothers continue to die disproportionally in comparison to white mothers during childbirth.
Black patients and other patients of color are often not believed when they report pain, and actual medical material has been taught stating that people of color can handle higher levels of pain and exaggerate pain levels as well.
This is backed up by the countless stories of people of color being sent home with or without a coronavirus test after experiencing symptoms only to be back at the hospital on a ventilator or dying at home days later.
Access to Treatment
We knew that COVID was on its way to the US, months before it actually started affecting our side of the world. Besides the fact that it was ignored and belittled for months by the Trump administration, our healthcare system is devastatingly difficult to navigate.
And for those with limited economic and financial opportunities, dealing with the healthcare system in any way, especially in the most important ways is just another shackle of debt and poverty.
Health care is expensive; we know this. But also, adequate and affordable healthcare is rarely offered by employers of the working class. A large portion of minority populations are working-class therefore healthcare is out of reach for many people of color.
POC Essential Workers’ lives are just valued less
Furthermore, while employment loss is at devastating levels, many of the essential jobs that still are in effect are held in large part by minority populations.
Bus drivers, transit and delivery workers, supermarket workers, and sanitation workers are all exposed to potentially contracting the virus every day.
Even cleaning service employees in literal hospitals have been reporting discrimination in the workplace. Where Black and Latino employees are instructed to clean Coronavirus exposed rooms and their white coworkers are allowed to reject the task.
Essential workers are consistently told to work without any protection from the virus. And they’re paid so little to keep our society functioning.
What’s more, is that people of color often live in multi-generational homes. This means that there are far more people living in one space making it hard to self-isolate.
How are you going to isolate yourself after a dangerous essential worker shift, when you live in a one or two-bedroom with five or six other family members?
Inmates are at higher risk for Coronavirus
Another facet of this is the underserved prison population.
With known and documented racial disparities under the US Criminal Justice System, inmates are at a dangerously high risk of contracting the Coronavirus.
According to an NPR report, 73% of inmates at an Ohio Prison tested positive for COVID-19. Outbreaks are sweeping across prisons in America despite some efforts at compassionate or early-release for non-violent offenders.
Prison workers are also subsequently at higher risk. And of course, workers at correctional facilities are also essential workers. Infrastructure, the health care system, and the economic system and justice system along with local and federal governments, in general, continue to fail people of color again and again.
We saw it with Hurricane Katrina, and we’re seeing it again now. The question is when will it finally be acknowledged and more importantly changed.