STAT News reports on clear racial inequities emerging in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. “African Americans in Illinois, for example, accounted for 29% of confirmed cases and 41% of deaths as of Monday morning, yet they make up only 15% of the state’s population, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, one of just a handful of government agencies sharing information on who is hardest hit by the virus. Michigan mirrors Illinois, with 34% of Covid-19 cases and 40% of deaths striking African Americans, even though only 14% of Michigan’s population is African American. The story is similar in Wisconsin, where ProPublica first reported that African Americans number nearly half of the 941 cases in Milwaukee County and 81% of its 27 deaths while the population is 26% African American.” Lisa Cooper, an internal medicine physician and a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said she’d have to speculate, given the dearth of data, but she listed multiple reasons why as a group African Americans of lower income are more likely to become ill: People working for an hourly wage don’t have the luxury of being able to shelter at home or the means to buy two weeks’ worth of healthy food. They may work in jobs deemed essential, such as in public transportation, public safety, or health care. If they quit, they would lose their health insurance, if they have it, and access to health care. If they continue working, they risk exposure to the coronavirus. And they are more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma, chronic conditions that put them at higher risk for more serious Covid-19 illness.” Speaking to ProPublica, Dr. Camara Jones says, “COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation... This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance. … It’s because we’re not valued.”
New research shows that exposure to high levels of air pollution raises the risk of death from COVID-19, another factor that likely contributes to racial inequities in COVID-19 deaths given exposure of communities of color to environmental hazards. “In an analysis of 3,080 counties in the United States, researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that higher levels of the tiny, dangerous particles in air known as PM 2.5 were associated with higher death rates from the disease. For weeks, public health officials have surmised a link between dirty air and death or serious illness from Covid-19, which is caused by the coronavirus. The Harvard analysis is the first nationwide study to show a statistical link, revealing a “large overlap” between Covid-19 deaths and other diseases associated with long-term exposure to fine particulate matter. “The results of this paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes,” the authors wrote.”
The Guardian reports on how “coronavirus has exposed New York’s two societies,” Jumaane Williams, the public advocate who acts as the official watchdog for New Yorkers, told the Guardian… In places like the Bronx – which is 84% black, Latino or mixed race – the sidewalks are still bustling with people making their way into work. There is still a rush hour. “We used to call them ‘service workers’,” Williams said. “Now they are ‘essential workers’ and we have left them to fend for themselves.” The public advocate pointed out that 79% of New York’s frontline workers – nurses, subway staff, sanitation workers, van drivers, grocery cashiers – are African American or Latino. While those city dwellers who have the luxury to do so are in lockdown in their homes, these communities have no choice but to put themselves in harm’s way every day. If you superimpose a map of where frontline workers live within New York over a map of the 76,876 confirmed cases in the city, the two are virtually identical. In Queens, the most intense concentration of Covid-19 infections are in precisely those neighborhoods with large numbers of essential workers… “We put people out there and said you got to go to work, but we didn’t give them protective gear or additional testing to keep them safe. It was almost as though these groups were expendable to keep the city moving,” Williams said.”
The state of Wisconsin held in-person voting for statewide elections this week, despite the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections that have fallen disproportionately on African-American residents of Milwaukee. Voters in the city of Milwaukee queued for hours at the city’s five open polling places—under normal circumstances, the city has 180 polling places open. “So far, turnout looks like it will be a fraction of what it was in 2016, and that is believed to benefit Republicans, who were seeking to maintain control of a seat on the conservative-leaning state supreme court. It was the state supreme court who voted along partisan lines to overrule [Governor] Evers’ last-minute effort and to allow the election to move forward.”
In San Francisco, local leaders have worked with the city’s Human Services Agency to secure 20 temporary housing units for victims of domestic violence during the pandemic. “As we shelter in place to limit COVID transmission, survivors of domestic violence are at an increased risk of danger and victimization by their abusers,” said District Attorney Boudin in a press release. “Now more than ever, we must work together to ensure that the most vulnerable of our victims have a place to shelter free from abuse. We have come up with an immediate plan for 20 furnished apartments and are working collaboratively to find shelter for many more survivors in the coming days.”
Zeynep Tufekci writes about the need to keep parks open to the public: “Across the world, from Zurich to St. Louis, authorities are closing down public parks and outdoor spaces—with many citing overcrowding, which they fear will fuel coronavirus infections. In one notable and much-discussed example, officials in London just announced in a scolding tweet that they were closing down Brockwell Park, after they claimed that about 3,000 people took to the park to enjoy the good weather. In the short run, closing parks may seem prudent, when our hospitals are overrun and we are trying so hard to curb the spread of COVID-19. But in the medium to long run, it will turn out to be a mistake that backfires at every level. While it’s imperative that people comply with social-distancing and other guidelines to fight this pandemic, shutting down all parks and trails is unsustainable, counterproductive, and even harmful… These are just a few suggestions, and there could be many others. Even if health authorities close some parks temporarily while they assess and develop evidence-based policies and best practices, they should do so with transparency and a timeline or conditions under which the parks will reopen. That’s the best of all possible worlds: The authorities will preserve much-needed legitimacy, and the public will retain access to the outdoors under sensible conditions that reduce risk while promoting health, well-being, and resilience—and we will certainly need all of that to get through the next many months.