A man gets a vaccination in a room with other people.
Image Source: CDC / Unsplash

How COVID-19 Exposed the Racism in Healthcare

Systemic racism is everywhere.

The protests over the past week have brought acute attention to the relationship between systemic racism and our law enforcement. Most conversations and protests have been focused on how Black people, particularly Black women and Black trans people, are disproportionately impacted by police violence and harsh incarceration. Calls for reform have been centered on defunding the police, eliminating cash bail, and holding police accountable for their actions.

But as we push this work forward, we have to remember that systemic racism is pervasive. It’s just as present in our criminal justice system as it is in healthcare, education, housing, and employment opportunities. It decides who gets to vote and who gets to become a CEO. It’s a difficult and complex issue that is easier to understand in specific instances but has an accumulative impact. Although here at ARD we’re breaking down daily actions against specific instances, we also have to remember that all of it is affecting all of us all the time with devastating consequences.

TAKE ACTION

• Research the racial and ethnic disparities of COVID-19 in your state. 

• Reflect on the following questions if you can – I acknowledge and respect that losing someone to COVID-19 is painful and difficult, and this may not be a good time to reflect: Do you know someone that has contracted COVID-19? If so, what underlying factors noted below may have increased the likelihood of contracting the disease? Which underlying factors didn’t affect their relationship to COVID-19? Which underlying factors could have been more or less severe based on this person’s ethnicity?

And it’s also important to remember that racism doesn’t just affect Black people. Although we’ve focused mainly on Black lives, there are so many other people of color affected by racism each day. And remember when we talked about intersectionality? How we are impacted is compounded by other aspects of our identity. And those identities – like our academic background, for example – are also shaped by opportunities based on race. Whew!

Nothing has exposed this more drastically than COVID-19. This unprecedented global pandemic does not discriminate. People across the globe are affected. But some of us here in America are affected more than others – people of color, particularly Black people. And how can that be? As Kerri Kelly, founder of CTZNWell, stated: “This virus doesn’t discriminate, but systems do.” And because our system is inequitable, so is the impact of the disease. Today we’ll offer an overview of the relationship between COVID-19 and racism. And for the next few Sundays, we’ll dive deeper into some of the specific aspects of society and how they prevent all of us from being well – whether there’s a global pandemic or not.

“We know that these racial ethnic disparities in COVID-19 are the result of pre-pandemic realities. It’s a legacy of structural discrimination that has limited access to health and wealth for people of color.”

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine, via this NPR article

African–Americans and COVID-19

First off, let’s look at COVID-19 in America. COVID-19 is here and isn’t going anywhere. With over 2 million confirmed cases and 113,000 deaths, the U.S. is now leading in worldwide tallies, accounting for a total of 26% in confirmed global cases (based on data pulled from here the morning of June 14). And cases aren’t slowing. According to this article by TIME magazine, 25 states continue to see case counts grow day by day. Four of those states—Arizona, California, Mississippi, and North Carolina—have had cases steadily rising since COVID-19 started.

But how is it disproportionately impacting Black people? According to the CDC, almost 1/3 of infections nationwide have affected Black Americans, even though Black people represent about 13% of the U.S. population. A Yale study found that black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white Americans. In addition, the team found that Latinx people are almost twice as likely to die of the disease compared with white people.

And remember that not all states have been reporting data by race/ethnicity this whole time. In fact, this article from John Hopkins’ Coronavirus Research Center says racial and ethnic information is currently available for only about 35% of the total deaths in the U.S., making it even more challenging to see the full scope of the disparities.

Researchers and medical experts often cite underlying factors that may increase the likelihood of contracting and overcoming the disease. The CDC lists several on their website. We’re going to dive into each over the coming weeks, but here’s a quick recap below to start reflecting on today’s action:

  • Some medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, lung, liver and kidney disease
  • People living in densely crowded areas, including dense neighborhoods, multi-family homes, and jails and prisons
  • Certain occupations that place people in more direct exposure to others, and/or occupations that are deemed essential
  • Pregnancy
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • Not having health insurance

It may not be clear just yet how race and ethnicity play into each of these spaces. We’ll unpack them next week. But notice the broad categories. When underlying factors are inherently inequitable, everything becomes more difficult to overcome.

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