Every day, we are inundated with information about the horrors of the coronavirus pandemic. We hear about the rising number of deaths, the increasing rate of infections, the mental anguish, the shortages of critical supplies in hospitals, the people struggling to pay bills and survive, the long lines at food banks and so much more. But lost in the coverage of this virus is one critical point that we simply cannot ignore: the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African Americans and disenfranchised communities.
To be clear, I am not saying the pandemic is a conspiracy to kill or target Blacks, but it is illuminating the existing racial disparities in this country.
To be clear, I am not saying the pandemic is a conspiracy to kill or target Blacks, but it is illuminating the existing racial disparities in this country that reverberate in everything from health care to jobs, housing and more. We are watching a crisis within a crisis unfold before us, and our challenge is not just to expose it but also to ensure that when we rebuild and re-emerge, we take strategic steps to rectify it.
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ProPublica recently released a report on the alarming rate at which Black Americans have contracted and died from COVID-19. The report notes that Black Chicagoans account for half of all coronavirus cases in the city and more than 70 percent of deaths, even though they make up only about 30 percent of the city’s population. In Milwaukee County, Blacks comprised almost half of all cases and 81 percent of its deaths even though the Black population is only 26 percent in that area. In Michigan, the state’s population is 14 percent Black, but Blacks make up 40 percent of deaths. In Louisiana, the Black population is about 32 percent of the total, but more than 70 percent of people who have died from the virus are Black, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
On Wednesday, data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backed up this reporting. The CDC analysis includes data from hundreds of patients from 14 states and found that, in the data available, significantly more patients were white than Black.
But the racial inequality becomes even more apparent when you factor in pre-existing conditions and the imbalances and disparities that have long persisted in our community. African Americans suffer from higher rates of underlying health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, hypertension and more — all of which increase the likelihood of death or serious illness due to coronavirus. The inability to get access to good health care or medical assistance in everyday life and, of course, during this pandemic also greatly impacts the Black community and poorer communities. Environmental issues like air quality and water quality, as well as inadequate housing, also disproportionately impact Black Americans and other communities of color.
When you are living in a housing project or crowded buildings with multiple family members, you don’t have the luxury to socially distance. When you don’t have the luxury to work from home, you can’t avoid getting on a subway, a bus or other forms of public transportation to go to work. Ditto when you can’t afford your own car, can’t afford an Uber or can’t afford a cab ride. It’s easy to socially distance in the suburbs or in affluent neighborhoods, but it becomes nearly impossible in crowded urban areas and in lower-income neighborhoods.
As we continue to grapple with the new normal and try to come together as a nation to battle this vicious pandemic, we cannot simply gloss over the toll this horrendous virus has taken on the Black community. As the CDC numbers show, we are only just starting to understand the danger this pandemic poses to Black Americans in the days, weeks and months ahead. These societal disparities existed long before the virus, but they are now magnified before us.
We must flatten the curve, but we must also flatten inequality in health care, the economy, access to nutritious food and overall quality of life. It is the only way we can truly emerge from this tragedy with a semblance of hope for the future.