Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Home Op-Ed Racial Disparities in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Racial Disparities in the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Tiffany Sanchez ’21

Many of us have complained about the effects the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our lives. We miss interacting with our friends and loved ones in person, going out during the weekends, and not having to stare at a screen for hours. For seniors especially, many of their end-of-the-year traditions have been canceled, which was completely unaccounted for and has been received with much sorrow. While we have all been negatively affected in one way or another by this growing pandemic, it is accurate to say that most of us are faring much better than many others in this country. Out of respect and a need for awareness within the SHP community, we must acknowledge the privilege and advantages we have in comparison to others. 

Various studies have shown that there are in fact racial disparities brought on by this pandemic and it is devastating communities of color. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people of color, as they are more prone to live in packed areas and multigenerational housing situations. This densely populated situation increases the risk of the highly contagious disease spreading and infecting many more people as it makes social distancing and self-isolation harder. We are also seeing this disadvantage within communities of color because COVID-19 is primarily hitting big cities as opposed to rural areas, which are witnessing the less immediate effects. Demographically, these areas are predominantly white and lack racial diversity. According to CNN, COVID-19 “is extra-lethal because it is a pandemic jumping on top of multiple preexisting epidemics.” People of color are more prone to suffer from asthma, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, which makes coronavirus more lethal for them. The other pre-existing epidemic, however, is that of poverty and low-wage jobs: brown people are large contributors to essential jobs, putting them in the frontlines of danger as they work to keep America running during this crisis. 

What has prominently stood out amongst these current studies, though, is that the black community is one of the top communities of color experiencing most of the negative effects brought on by this pandemic. In Chicago, black people make up 29% of the population, but they account for 70% of the deaths caused by COVID-19, and other several states have reported similar findings. 

So why exactly is the black community grappling with these disproportional disadvantages? More African-Americans are part of the essential workforce than other racial groups; according to The Guardian, the disparity is greater within the healthcare industry, with black “workers being 50% more likely to work in the healthcare and social assistance industry and 40% more likely to work in hospitals, compared with white workers.” And it has been evident for a long time now that healthcare practitioners have the greatest risk of contracting the virus. Black people are also more likely to work jobs that require proximity to others, such as bus drivers and postal service. However, despite their increased chances of risk compared to other racial groups, according to Amir Khan, an NHS doctor, it has been reported that black Americans “are twice as likely to lack health insurance as their white counterparts, and are more likely to live in areas where medical services have been cut or restricted.” They are also more likely to have lower-paying jobs that do not offer paid sick leave, pressuring many black people to continue working, even if self-isolation is being recommended. 

To make matters worse, most African Americans do not work jobs that allow for telecommuting, suggesting that the black community will be one of the most affected groups during the economic fallout of the pandemic. Black workers will be forced to face severe health consequences, on top of already being more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, due to this economic fallout, as they will be forced to file for unemployment. It is vital that people advocate for workers’ rights more, now than ever, especially for the black workers who are risking their lives in the healthcare industry by fulfilling essential services that we all benefit from. In this time of crisis, they deserve to be protected and provided for in case they get sick just as much–if not more–than we do.

Lastly, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, black people also make up 40% of our 2.3 million prison population while only representing 13% of US residents. Jails are becoming dangerous places in which to reside, as social distancing is not an option for prisoners. Recently, there was a hunger strike at Cook County jail, which is a COVID-19 hot zone as of now, out of fear that coronavirus would spread among inmates. Tens of thousands of inmates can die within days if several cases are found in one prison as inmates, guards, staff, and food services people are in constant interaction; an inmate in Washington, DC recently died from the virus after being denied bail. If these deaths continue, they would overwhelmingly be black lives. It is necessary to work towards safely shrinking our prison population right now to save as many lives as possible. This can include releasing the elderly and sick, as long as they pose no threat to anyone, and those imprisoned for minor probation and parole violations. Those who are not a threat should be able to await their trial while practicing social distancing at home. 

The COVID-19 data being collected should start to be broken along racial lines as there are clear racial disparities and healthcare inequities that should be taken into account when constructing the manner in which our nation should respond, so everyone can benefit. According to The Guardian, it has been too “often [that] black workers have shouldered an unequal share of the burden in our national struggles” and as a community we should work towards preventing that this pandemic adds to that unfair history. 

Most of us are privileged and fortunate enough to be social distancing at home and have parents who work jobs that allow for telecommuting. Next time we are called to complain about our “boredom,” we should be glad that’s the biggest of our issues because clearly, there are others struggling much more than we are.

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