Margaret Valenti writes on the increase in the number of infected and the number of deaths among low-income communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Race plays a significant role in this crisis, as the pandemic disproportionately affects people of color, disproportionately immigrants, who often play the vital roles of minimum wage workers that many depend on. Under twenty percent of Black and Brown American workers in the U.S. can afford to work from home.
It is true that COVID-19 will affect everyone regardless of race, age, socioeconomic status, health, disability, etc. but communities of color are at a higher risk. Many of those a part of communities of color are more likely to have immunocompromising conditions like heart diseases, diabetes, asthma, obesity, etc. They are more likely to work low-income jobs, jobs that many now consider essential during the pandemic. They are also a huge part of the U.S. prison populations which faces an increased risk of infection, for undocumented immigrants coming out of the shadows could still mean deportation as ICE continues to deport people, and some of these communities have less access to quality healthcare or no healthcare coverage.
According to New York City housing data published by Rolling Stone and the New York Times, the pandemic, at least in the city, disproportionately affects lower-income, outer borough areas that many communities of color inhabit.
As of March 27th, in Illinois, twenty-eight percent of the positive COVID-19 tests were black residents of Illinois, which doubles the total state percentage of black residents (13.8%). In Michigan, Black Americans make up fourteen percent of the state population, but forty percent of the total coronavirus deaths. As of April 1st, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, which includes Charlotte, Black Americans make up thirty-three percent of residents but forty-four percent of confirmed cases.
In Milwaukee, Black Americans make up twenty-six percent of the total population, but about half of the infections and eighty-one percent of those who died are Black Americans as of April 3rd. In Chicago, a recent report found that seventy percent of those who died are Black Americans when the city’s Black population is just thirty percent of the total.
It is not hard to imagine that some undocumented immigrants working in a meatpacking plant or on a farm where essential foods grow who cannot social distance appropriately, and therefore, are more susceptible to COVID-19. Whether the phenomenon is countrywide is still unclear, but the current administration refuses to focus on race in relation to the pandemic, sparking criticism.
Former Democratic Presidential candidate and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Presley wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, that, “any attempt to contain COVID-19 in the United States will have to address its potential spread in low-income communities of color, first and foremost to protect the lives of people in those communities, but also to slow the spread of the virus in the country as a whole … this lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities.”
The letter received signatures from California Senator and former Democratic Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, New Jersey Senator and former Democratic Presidential candidate Cory Booker, and Illinois Representative Robin Kelly.
Information about race’s role during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is not yet available on a wide scale. However, it is safe to say that any low-income and essential workers the U.S. relies on, who are disproportionately, though not solely, people of color, face increased risk, both from a health and economic perspective: grocery workers, small-business owners, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, lawnmowers, managers, cashiers, restaurant workers, construction workers, police, etc. Many of these workers cannot stop working, otherwise, everyone else starts lining up for food, medical supplies, and other products that are in short supply.
That is why it is particularly important that the government not only addresses socioeconomic inequality but racial inequality as well during the pandemic. The two are related but the dual focus accesses and addresses a wider range of concerns. However, the problems coming out during the pandemic within communities of color will not disappear once the virus runs its course in the U.S. It is important that these issues continue to receive attention and that lawmakers continue to mitigate the effects of systemic inequality on communities of color.
It is not enough that most people are comfortable and safe, it is important that all people are comfortable and safe, and that is not something anyone should need to clarify, but sometimes it does need saying and writing. The COVID-19 pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better, with many predicting that the pandemic in the U.S. lasts through the summer and into next fall, and it is clear that communities of color that will face the brunt of the epidemic. It is important that these communities’ concerns receive attention as they relate to the crisis and that more aid goes directly to those low-income communities of color to address disparities and reduce the number of deaths.
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