Racism Is a Public Health Issue: COVID-19
November 26, 2020 ⋅ 6:30 P.M ⋅ Kimia Faroughi ⋅ Editor: Guadalupe Sandoval⋅
The coronavirus pandemic has unquestionably affected communities all across the world drastically, but Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC) have been hit the hardest. In fact, the spread of COVID has brought to light the most glaring inequities that pervade this country’s healthcare system.
Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities face a greater number of cases and deaths compared to the white population.
For example, in California, Hispanic or Latino folks make up 39% of the population, but around 61% of total cases and just under 50% of deaths. According to The COVID Tracking Project data, in California, Hispanic or Latino communities have 2,705 cases and 57 deaths for every 100,000 people.
Black communities face similar disproportionate numbers in California: There are 1,314 cases and 61 deaths for every 100,000 people. This data means that Black people are the most likely to die from coronavirus in California. When comparing to white communities, which face 822 cases and 36 deaths for every 100,000 people, this data raises major red flags. The fact that people of color and marginalized groups, specifically Black, Indigenous, and Latino/Hispanic people, experience the highest rate of coronavirus deaths speaks volumes about the structure and function of healthcare in our society.
So why exactly do these racial disparities exist? The short answer is years and years of health discrimination and other forms of systemic racism.
Many marginalized racial and ethnic groups have a much more difficult time accessing healthcare resources, let alone high-quality healthcare.
For example, a National Institutes of Health study in 2014 found that hospitals in largely Black neighborhoods are more likely to close down than those in largely white neighborhoods, making Black people’s access to healthcare much more challenging.
Additionally, pre-existing health conditions, which can increase the severity of COVID-19 for a person, are disproportionately prevalent in communities of color. An example of this issue is in the Navajo Nation, where rates of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are particularly high. On top of this, nearly one third of homes on the Navajo Nation do not have access to running water, which means that COVID safety guidelines, such as washing your hands, cannot be properly followed. A lack of access to basic healthcare resources and adequate treatment for health conditions is due to a long history of Indigenous persecution and displacement in the US, as well as the US government failing to provide Indigenous populations with the resources promised to them in official agreements. This has made the necessary infrastructure to provide quality healthcare, among other things, unattainable.
The systemic racism that communities of color face when accessing and attaining healthcare services is not helped by the fact that many work in or live in high-risk, close-contact environments. Many low-income people of color do not have the flexibility or privilege to maintain social distancing measures because they need to make a living. With no sign of government assistance when it comes to coronavirus relief, at least not enough to sustain the high cost of living in this country, those that do end up experiencing symptoms cannot simply take off time from their jobs to recover as many others can.
The pandemic has shone a light on the problematic fact that our healthcare system is not designed to adequately care for BIPOC; As a consequence, racial inequity is a matter of public health.
To overcome this harmful issue, there needs to be a bold policy initiative that will make sure everyone can have access to the high-quality healthcare they deserve no matter their race or socioeconomic status. Until then, we, as students committed to achieving health equity, can help those most affected by the pandemic by donating to mutual aid organizations that assist in coronavirus relief among marginalized populations.
A massive directory of mutual aid funds dedicated to coronavirus relief: https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org/collective-care/.
About the Author
Kimia Faroughi is an undergraduate student at University of California - Los Angeles.