Are Black Americans ‘socially’ at higher risk for contracting Covid-19 or is the underlying principle pointing elsewhere?
In the midst of deserted squares and silent streets, the United States health care system is rigorously dissected on the international scale. High costs and low accessibility of US health care are routine conversational points. However, given the recent data, this system seems to be particularly rigged against its (Black) minorities – or so it seems. For a country that prides itself on democratic principles like freedom and equality, especially in times of crisis, the reality remains. Predominantly Black American communities are pummeling under the pressure of Covid-19. The underlying principle points to the alarming truth of systematic discrimination written not only into the fabric of this system but this country.
The facts regarding Covid-19 & predominantly Black communities
We know regardless of race; the virus is very contagious. Depending on the incubation period, tracking the transmission can be problematic. Senior citizens (> 65) and those individuals with underlying (chronic conditions) are at highest risk (CDC, 2020). With regards to race, the facts remain; infection and mortality rate of Covid-19 among Black Americans has peaked alarming figures. In Michigan, Black Americans constitute roughly 14% of the population. But also contribute 35% of the confirmed cases and 40% of the deaths as of April 3rd. Almost 40% of the deaths reported in New Orleans are from Black majority residential areas (ProPublica). In Chicago alone, fatalities among Black patients are nearly six times higher than White patients. The Cook County medical examiner and the Chicago department of Public Health report 68% of deaths reported are comprised of African Americans (City of Chicago).
Black Americans have higher reported rates of chronic illness’ like diabetes, asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure. This leaves them with an even higher risk of contracting Covid-19 (CDC, 2020). Only a handful of cities are reporting demographic related data on an individual scale. Unfortunately, the CDC has yet to release details regarding race and location on a national level. Perhaps the nation’s reluctance to document this monstrous disparity once again points to the concealed reality.
Why are the rates of infection alarmingly high?
In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, many Black communities nationwide are struggling to socially isolate. Due to low income wages and inability to afford unpaid leave, they are often left at high risk of contracting Covid-19. This leads to those lower skilled/lower waged workers (grocery stores, transportation), compelled to work thus labeled ‘essential’. And once again left at a high risk. Unable to afford health insurance and affordable housing because of those consistently low wages, these individuals find themselves dependent on shared services (apartments, ride sharing, public transit). Subsequently, put at high risk. As a result of this endless cycle of repeated unfavorable occurrences, Black communities across the country are paying the price of systematic discrimination woven into the fabric of this economy.
The American history of systematic discrimination
What started off as slavery and Jim Crow laws, ultimately contributed to consistent government approved segregation. Although slavery was indeed abolished in 1863, several southern states like South Carolina imposed ‘Black Codes’. These fined Black Americans (although free) for participating in work other than domestic service or farming. Violating any of these codes could lead to arrests by virtue of the 13th amendment loophole which legalizes slavery upon imprisonment. Policies written as part of the New Deal post Great Depression expanded labor standards, improved working conditions, and expanded opportunity. However, these ‘expanded’ protocols deliberately excluded people of color from representation, solidifying racial disparities as part of the economic foundation (American Progress).
Lack of investment in business and schools in places like Chicago for example, has resulted in rigid divisions throughout the city. Intensifying income inequality fuels racism and discrimination against Black Americans. And unfortunately, they pay the ultimate price in poor health outcomes, as unmasked by the Covid-19 crisis. The long-term implications of perpetual neglect has led to the alarming figures of chronic diseases among these communities, sparking the incidence rates (number of new cases) of Coronavirus.
Of course, racial bias in medicine exists, as it does in multiple industries. But the root problem traces back decades. Considering this country’s discriminatory history, along with current national lack of urgency regarding racial reporting, public health officials are unable to fully address these inequities in care. The dreadful affect of Covid-19 on Black Americans is absolutely a public health crisis in itself. The responsibility remains with the public in understanding where these fundamental violations are. And most important, working to address prejudiced gaps in health care delivery and accessibility.