Across the world, coronavirus cases are popping up again. But in few other countries has the virus had as disastrous a toll as it has in America, which has failed to meet the challenge of managing the worst public health crisis in the century.
It’s worth asking if that mismanagement is due, in part, to who has been suffering most from the virus.
A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll finds that nearly a third of Black Americans (31 percent) say they know someone firsthand who has been killed by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
This far eclipsed Latinx and white Americans’ personal exposure to how deadly the virus can be; 17 percent of adult Latinx and 9 percent of white Americans say they know someone killed by the virus.
This disparity remained when respondents were asked if they knew anyone who has gotten sick from the coronavirus. According to the poll, which was conducted earlier this month, 52 percent of all Black Americans say they know at least one person who has gotten sick or died from the virus. For all Americans, that rate was fewer than 4 in 10. (The data does not appear to include—or at least, does not disaggregate—data for Asian and Native Americans, the latter of whom have also been disproportionately impacted by the novel coronavirus).
When it comes to coronavirus impact, this isn’t a racial divide—it’s a chasm. And it’s impossible to separate who has been hurt most deeply by the crisis from the systemic causes of it, as well as the collective response to managing it. On this latter point, it’s safe to say that the U.S., especially compared to other countries, has failed.
The virus is surging in Southern states—areas that the majority of Black Americans call home (58 percent in 2017). This is because, absent a strong federal response, leaders of these states have largely decided to barrel ahead with trying to resuscitate their economy rather than protect their residents through robust, comprehensive public health policies.
The Post asked Joseph Betancourt, vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to weigh in on the data, and why there are such differences in who is contracting the virus, and how severely.
“This pandemic has really unearthed—shone a real bright light on—the ways these disparities should not be accepted and are not tolerable,” Betancourt said.
From the Post:
He said people of color in the United States tend to live with “a series of preconditions” that put them at greater risk of becoming infected with the virus and of them faring poorly. They include higher rates of poverty and the varied effects of structural racism, Betancourt said. The downstream effects, he said, include crowded housing, more frequent asthma, diabetes and other chronic diseases, and a greater likelihood of being in jobs that do not allow them to work from the greater safety of home.
Interestingly, the wide-ranging poll also asked respondents whether they supported the Black Lives Matter protest around the country (91 percent said they did), with nearly half of Black respondents saying they or someone close to them has attended a rally or protest (in total, more than 1 in 4 respondents said this was true for them).
Here’s a thought: living and respecting the slogan “Black Lives Matter” means protecting Black people in all arenas of civic life—in the streets, in the courtroom, in the classroom, and through thoughtful public health policy. It means actively and aggressively dismantling the kinds of structures—a highly segregated job market; a lack of affordable housing; medical deserts—that make Black folks so vulnerable to the virus.
Anything less is lip service.