by MaLaysia Mitchell
On January 20, 2020, the United States experienced its first confirmed Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) case. With it now being the beginning of July, the nation is still scrambling to attain some sense of normalcy and gain control over the pandemic.
As a health care worker, I have seen CDC recommendations and projected statistics of deaths and infection rates consistently change from week to week, even day to day. However, there is one constant in this country: public health crises disproportionately affect ethnic minorities.
Do Social Distancing and Locality Matter?
One of the most consistent safety precautions recommended by the CDC is to remain six feet apart from others to mitigate the spread of the virus. Highly populated metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York City were relatively quick in their response to enforce stay-at-home orders to encourage people to maintain distance from each other.
However, even with the consistency of the respective policies across cities, there was still alarming news that Blacks were dying at higher rates than whites. According to the CDC, as of June 12, hospitalizations and deaths resulting from COVID-19 were 5 times higher for Blacks compared to white non-Hispanics. Latinos have been the most affected in Chicago.
During most of the stay-at-home order, I had the privilege to work from home. However, I was constantly reminded of the disparities in the Black community while serving at a clinic situated in North Lawndale, one of the hardest-hit zip codes in Chicago. North Lawndale is 87% Black with a median income of $26,362, which translates to low-income Blacks having the highest level of infection rates in the city.
However, the question remains: why are Black people dying at higher rates?
Although not an exhaustive list, here are three factors for why Black people are experiencing the pandemic differently:
- Limited access to consistent and quality care is an issue that existed before and during the pandemic. Blacks face financial and insurance challenges in accessing healthcare. Even after obtaining insurance, the quality of care remains poor due to provider shortages and limited service options within their community. This legacy continues as Blacks experienced difficulty receiving COVID-19 testing and treatment.
- Underlying medical conditions have historically been higher within minority communities, which puts them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications. Within the Black community, nearly 12% are diabetic with a 40% prevalence of hypertension.
- Living and work environments create further disadvantages. Blacks are more likely to be on the frontline of essential work, putting themselves and their families at risk due to increased possibility of exposure. Additionally, they are more likely to live in a community with an outbreak and inhabit households with crowded conditions, which makes adherence to the social distance orders all the more challenging.
Social distancing policies and zip code mapping are only pieces of the virus mitigation puzzle. The pandemic exposed the continuous injustices the Black community experiences and how the cost of perpetuating these social inequities is Black death.
The pandemic exposed the continuous injustices the Black community experiences and how the cost of perpetuating these social inequities is Black death.
One Step Further
As a Black American, to see the COVID-19 statistics of being a few steps closer to death than my white counterparts has developed unprecedented stress. Although it is not a shock, the reality becomes even more heartbreaking as friends pass away and the elders in my life continue to dwindle. Unfortunately, this is only half of the stress that this summer has brought to me and so many other Blacks in this country.
The COVID-19 pandemic is compounded with the pandemic of racism as the nation faces the injustice of police brutality with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and countless others.
The inequities in the healthcare and justice systems show the insidious nature of violence against Black bodies and most importantly against Black humanity. The pursuit of happiness, health, and overall well-being have been continuously restricted and hindered.
As our nation comes to terms with racial inequity and broken structures, the words of Galatians 5:14-15 convict and confront these injustices. In NIV, the verses read, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
Here the Apostle Paul reminds me to advocate for and practice the love exemplified by Christ in Scripture. Christ came to draw humanity closer to the Kingdom of Heaven and the Father. He desires us to have the same love he shares with the Father. Our nation would be unrecognizably transformed if we upheld Luke 6:31 and did not allow for others what we ourselves would not accept.