As early regional and national data on race becomes available, it is devastatingly clear that Black, Latinx, and Native communities are being hit the hardest by this pandemic.
People of color are more likely to be working in “essential” jobs, and therefore are at much greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. Health inequities, seen in preexisting conditions such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, asthma, lack of access to quality health care, and underemployment are all factors that increase COVID-19 complications in patients of color. Coronavirus kills, and structural racism is its accomplice.
According to a recent analysis by the Associated Press, Black and Latinx people are not only becoming infected at higher rates, they are dying at a higher rate than other demographic groups. In counties that are majority-Black, officials have seen three times the rate of infections and nearly six times the rate of deaths compared to white communities. In Arizona, sixteen percent of COVID-19 deaths are Native Americans, despite comprising only 6% of the population. In New York City, seventy-five percent of frontline workers – nurses, subway staff, sanitation workers, drivers, grocery cashiers – are people of color. While some are able to shelter in place and work remotely, many workers of color have no choice.
We call on federal and state governments to release race and ethnicity data on COVID-19 testing, patients and health outcomes. This data should inform how we invest our time, our resources, and our energy. Ending the coronavirus threat requires us to start by attending to those who are most impacted.
Yet, shockingly, this administration blames people of color for their own deaths. The U.S. Surgeon General suggested that patients of color are personally responsible, urging Black and Brown communities to “avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.” (There is no data connecting COVID-19 to drug use, and research confirms that white and communities of color use drugs at similar rates.) They, along with Republican lawmakers, have fomented anti-Asian violence by calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus.” These explicitly racist calls—they go far beyond “dog whistle” politics—show that they are more skilled in attacking people of color than in attacking the virus. Their rhetoric is meant to deflect criticism of their deadly and disastrous failures, not to end the global threat of COVID-19.
What we know is that the best science supports a racial equity approach, and that a racial equity approach advances the fight against coronavirus. Ending the threat requires us to target our strategies and resources towards those who are most impacted by this pandemic, those least able to shelter in place, those facing the worst health inequities, those whom the administration and other demagogues would abandon and endanger. Instead of blaming and stigmatizing those who are most at risk of contracting COVID-19, Race Forward demands that we center their needs, and attack the disease with the urgency the moment demands. Structural racism has always been a pre-existing condition. Ending the threat of the virus means attacking structural racism. All of society benefits.