By: Kylie Love
While COVID-19 is not a racist virus, it has brought social and racial injustices and inequality to the forefront of public health. The global pandemic has shined a light on the disparities that have placed minorities at an increased risk of getting sick and dying from the virus. Nationwide, the fatality rate of Black people is 2.0 times higher than that of white people. That rate is 2.3 and 2.4 for Hispanic or Latino persons, and American Indian or Alaskan Natives respectively.
This disproportionate suffering stems from numerous social, economic, and health inequalities that reflect the ongoing impacts of structural racism. Part of the gap stems from discriminatory practices in the healthcare system, which can turn minority groups away before ever being treated. In one tragic example, a high school teacher was denied a COVID-19 test twice at her local hospital, only to die from COVID complications a month later. Even without these discriminatory practices, ethnic and racial minority groups may still have issues accessing healthcare; many individuals within these groups lack insurance, transportation to the hospital or clinic, childcare options, or even lack the ability to take time off from work. Additionally, many poor communities, primarily consisting of racial and ethnic minority groups, lack access to COVID-19 testing sites. One study found “that the median travel time to a COVID-19 testing site was 20 minutes in April 2020. Counties with a travel time of more than 20 minutes to a COVID-19 testing site had a higher percentage of the population that were from racial and ethnic minority groups, were uninsured, and had lower population density (were rural).” The lack of access to hospitals and testing sites has created unsafe conditions for racial minority groups across the country.
Further, underlying health conditions that increase the risk of a severe reaction to COVID-19 are also more common among people from racial and ethnic minority groups. A study in New York City found that Black and Hispanic or Latino people had higher obesity rates and higher COVID-19 mortality rates when compared to non-Hispanic Asian and non-Hispanic White people. Another study in Boston found that “among patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at an urban medical center, non-Hispanic Black patients were more likely to have one or more underlying medical conditions than people from other racial or ethnic groups. In another study of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, non-Hispanic Black patients were more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes compared with all other racial and ethnic groups combined.” These underlying conditions can be explained by the lack of access to healthcare.
Finally, many individuals within racial and ethnic minority groups are being killed by their jobs. A disproportionate amount of Black and Hispanic people are essential workers, meaning they are required “to work in order to provide critical national services that enable our communities to function during pandemic shut-downs.” These jobs increase the Black and Hispanic communities’ risk of exposure to the virus, while many White or Asian Americans are able to work remotely. These essential jobs, including factory or warehouse jobs, require Black and Hispanic individuals to work outside of their homes, often without reliable social distancing and paid leave. While social distancing has been preached since the beginning of the pandemic, it is a privilege not every American is afforded.
Research suggests that health equity is the way to end COVID-19. Health equity is “the principle underlying the commitment to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities.” Combating the social and financial systems that perpetuate racial inequality is the next step towards combating the global virus. Society must make “the investments necessary to decrease social determinants of health among the poor and disenfranchised” to protect itself from future global pandemics.
Kylie (she/her) is currently a 2L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Her legal interests range from criminal justice reformation to social justice issues affecting minority groups and people of color. When not in law school, Kylie enjoys hiking throughout northern Arizona, visiting national parks, and attempting to keep her multiple plants alive.