The Racial Disparity of COVID-19

Coronavirus began ravaging the world since before the turn of the calendar year. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have contracted the virus – and as of Wednesday afternoon, killing more than 14,000 in our country.

COVID-19 is destructive and reshaping our lives daily.  As more data becomes available on the virus, we’re learning, as ProPublica reported last week, “the coronavirus is not an ‘equalizer.’”

“Critical race scholars Michael Omi and Howard Winant argue that if we want to address racism we have to notice race.  Yet, in the midst of a pandemic with the U.S. winning the battle for worst response to the virus, the Center for Disease Control is not collecting data on racial disparities,” said Sharon Elise, CFA Associate Vice President of Racial & Social Justice.” Instead we are reliant on those few states and locales that are reporting the disturbing news that, as with other social disasters, Black people are suffering disproportionately in terms of numbers infected and numbers of deaths.” 

Early data continues to show high COVID-19 death and infection rates in Black America. According to The Charlotte Observer, black residents in Mecklenburg County, NC – the county which houses Charlotte – “accounted for 43.9 percent” of the confirmed COVID-19 cases as of March 30, while “black residents make up only 32.9 percent” of the county’s population. In Illinois, African Americans make up 28 percent of coronavirus cases in the state; that is nearly double the state’s black population. Extrapolating the data in Chicago: according to WBEZ, 70 percent of the recorded deaths in the city were black residents, who “make up 29 percent of Chicago’s population.”    

Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that at the “Navajo Nation that crosses three western states, 321 people were infected as of Saturday, an increase of 51 cases in a single day with 13 fatalities…”

Locally, California is “still working to compile ethnicity data on coronavirus cases as state and national leaders raised concerns Tuesday that African Americans and other minorities are being affected disproportionately,” according to Politico.

It’s still early in the battle against coronavirus, but the preliminary data points clearly to communities of color disproportionately falling victim to this virus.

But why?

In a report about the economic impact on communities of color amid the age of COVID-19, NBC News led its report with this: “About 70 percent of the nation’s hotel maids are people of color – as are 57 percent of those working as restaurant head chefs and cooks, and 42 percent of all waitstaff.”

In this case, it’s a double whammy of news: workers of color will not only feel the economic toll brought on by COVID-19, but also because their industries are still open, could become infected with COVID-19 due to proximity and  less opportunity to self-isolate. 

“This may be attributed to greater rates of chronic illness (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease), coupled with racism in the health fields as some allege that Blacks may be less likely to be referred for testing, as well as problems of hyper-segregation and enduring poverty that relegate Blacks to inner cities so black people may not live in areas where testing is conducted and may not have transportation to those areas and may have trouble with social distancing given overcrowded residential settings,” said Elise.

“Native people, Latinos and segments of the Asian/Pacific Islander population suffer the same conditions, chronic illness, segregation, and enduring poverty, so it is predictable they, too, will be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, though we are getting fewer reports thus far.” 

Labor constituency groups are also speaking in support of workers of colors. 

An article from ColorLine also examines eight potential reasons for why this could be the case and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. Among the reasons: systemic racism, more likely to be uninsured/underinsured/no primary care physician, the difficulty for communities of color to social distance and self-quarantine, and jobs with less pay and fewer benefits.

So what can you do? Stay informed. Continue your advocacy efforts and organize online. Call your state and federal leaders to express your concerns that people of color are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“This is the result of systemic racism, the same culprit that explains why old racial narratives on ‘yellow peril’ have been resurrected to blame Asians for the virus that 45 has labeled ‘Chinese flu’ and to assign the ‘usual suspects’ — people of color —special victim status for yet another social disaster,” said Elise.  “Let us join civil rights advocates and public health officials in demanding the CDC collect data on race and COVID-19, as well as assuring healthcare access.”