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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Systemic racism fuels coronavirus pandemic in US

Los Angeles County sees death rate of 13.2 per 100,000 people for African Americans, versus 5.7 per 100,000 for whites

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a multitude of America’s systemic inequities to the forefront. Increased instances of overt racism against Asian Americans, virus outbreaks throughout the incarceration system and a surge in domestic violence sheds light on just some of the marginalized populations that are facing more challenges and greater threats to their lives during this time. And as early coronavirus racial and ethnic data shows, Black and Latino populations are being disproportionately infected and killed by this disease. This is happening not only in California but across the country where racial demographics concerning COVID-19 are being reported. 

Compared to their shares of state, county and city populations, African Americans are overrepresented in COVID-19 deaths, accounting for more than one-third of them in the U.S. In Chicago, for example, African Americans make up less than a third of the population but constitute 72% of virus-related fatalities. Additionally, in North and South Carolina, the ratios of Black to white residents who have tested positive for coronavirus far exceed that of the general population.

Los Angeles County, with a quarter of California’s population but half of the state’s coronavirus deaths, has seen a death rate for African Americans of 13.2 per 100,000 people, the highest death rate compared to that of Latinos, Asians and whites. When looking specifically at age, Black and Latino patients in the county aged 18 to 49 comprise more deaths relative to their shares of the population and compared to both other racial groups and older age groups. 

The primary disadvantages, some of which are rooted in systemic racism, that cause such alarming disparities are clear to experts: underlying health risks like diabetes and asthma in Black and Latino populations, unequal access to health care resources and unequal health care treatment, lack of insurance and essential worker status

“America’s newest infection seems to be mating with America’s original infection, reproducing not life, but death,” said Ibram X. Kendi, the director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, in an article for The Atlantic.

Echoing medical professionals and policymakers, the Editorial Board urges the federal government to, at the very least, release a more comprehensive racial breakdown of coronavirus testing, cases and deaths to better inform strategies aimed at mitigating the virus’ disparate impact thus far. Seeing as how the virus has also disproportionately affected low-income and minority neighborhoods, often housing front-line workers, it is imperative that the most vulnerable are protected both physically and mentally. 

On top of the emotional toll of facing higher rates of infection, minorities — and especially Black communities — must contend with a distrust of the medical system from a history of mistreatment and exploitation. The mental impact of such a combined burden cannot be overstated. Emotional wellbeing must be part of efforts seeking to alleviate the added stress, particularly as it concerns structural racism and racial profiling, brought on by this pandemic. 

We must be willing to confront the inherent biases that escape no one and place Black, indigenous and people of color in more danger. Of course, these communities needed us before the pandemic, but they especially need us now, and our support must continue long after.

Written by: The Editorial Board


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