FROM THE LEFT
The racial disparity of COVID-19
By Patricia Jackson
The coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused unparalleled devastation around the world. What is surprising to many is the numbers of those infected with and who died from the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. have surpassed many third-world countries.
What is not surprising to some, especially black and brown people, is the disproportionately high rates of infection and deaths for African Americans living in several big cities and states. For example, in Chicago, African Americans accounted for more than half of those who tested positive and 72% of virus-related deaths even though they make up less than a third of the population.
A similar picture in regard to African Americans was found in the entire state of Illinois, where 43% of people died from the disease and 28% tested positive while making up only 15% of the population.
Similar ratios have been repeated in Michigan, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Connecticut and Las Vegas.
The common thread running through communities of color are factors that can be traced back to when the first slave ship landed on America’s shores, signaling the start of deliberate, systemic racism in this country. The structural inequalities that exist in our present-day socioeconomic, health, disaster recovery and environmental systems leave people of color vulnerable to disease and poverty. Here’s how: Delay in response to emergency situations: The federal response to Hurricane Katrina was so slow in coming that many emergency officials called it a national disgrace. In New Orleans parish, 68% of deaths were of black people — a rate 1.7 to 4 times higher than for whites. A study also showed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered trailers to 63% of residents in a predominantly white area to 13% in a predominantly black area.
Socioeconomic factors: Many people of color are employed in lower-income jobs that don’t provide the opportunity/ luxury of working from home but are dependent on face-to-face contact with others, making them more susceptible to the virus. In addition, many of these people use mass transportation and live in substandard, crowded housing, exposing them to infection.
Many of the most vulnerable are not offered or can’t afford health insurance. The lack of health insurance exacerbates the fact that people of color, prior to the spread of COVID-19, were more likely to have preexisting health conditions and face racial bias in their course of treatment. Recent data has shown that doctors are less likely to refer people of color for testing when they visit a clinic while exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
Although not on the forefront in recent months, blacks have disproportionately been affected by HIV/AIDS since its onset. A 2018 study found that although African Americans represent only 12% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 43% of new diagnoses. Factors contributing to this inequality include poverty, lack of access to health care, higher rates of some sexually transmitted infections, lack of awareness of HIV status and stigma.
Disparities in the Native American community: It is hard to comprehend that the first Americans are among the most vulnerable, experiencing disparities in health, housing, education and employment. Studies have revealed the high rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and asthma among Native Americans.
These conditions are attributed to overcrowded housing, no electricity and lack of running water in some homes, making it hard to wash hands, which is a vital defense against the spread of COVID-19. Twenty-five percent of those under the age of 65 lack health insurance.
During his January 2006 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush stated “That as we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope and rich in opportunity”.
The pandemic has shown us that our days are numbered and that now is the time for America and the world to step up, for “we are all in this together.”
Patricia Jackson lives in Groveland.
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