The impact of COVID-19 has undoubtedly shed a light on the inadequacies of the structures and institutions built to support modern civilization. Although many have banded together to support their communities and those around them in a deeply human way, the shortcomings of society’s preparedness to handle a pandemic of this magnitude in a way that reflects equity and humanity has been highlighted even greater. The deeply embedded racial inequalities that have historically and continue to undermine and oppress people of color are reflected in all aspects of society; the health care and economic response to COVID-19 is no exception.
Although the pandemic has left no one unaffected, people of color have been disproportionately hit hard across the nation. In Chicago, Black citizens have accounted for 72% of the deaths even though they make up 29% of the population. In New York City, Hispanics account for 34% of COVID-19 deaths while making up 29% of the city’s population.
Although Minnesota’s data reflects cases of contagion amongst people of color more proportionally, the actual numbers are likely significantly higher. Most of the testing in Minnesota comes out of the Mayo clinic which, due to its location, more often serves white communities. The lack of testing in communities of color creates giant blind spots for more accurate and comprehensive reporting.
Due to the systematic economic hardship placed more heavily on communities of color, the likelihood of contracting the virus is greater. Social distancing becomes more of a challenge in low-income neighborhoods with higher population density. Likewise, jobs that are now considered essential work and are more likely held in underprivileged communities pose higher safety risks as they are often lower paying, have higher exposure to the public, and are less likely to offer work-from-home options. Additionally, low-income communities are less likely to have access to adequate health care and disproportionately suffer more due to that as well.
Communities of color and Indigenous communities also have a substantially higher rate of underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, severe asthma, and obesity. In addition, these communities are and will be financially hurt more severely. The unemployment rate for people of color is more than double that of white Minnesotans and the unemployment rate for Black Minnesotans is higher than it’s ever been.
In response to the effect COVID-19 has had on communities of color, Governor Walz has announced the formation of a Community Resilience and Recovery work group that will address racial inequity specifically as it relates to the pandemic in health care, corrections, education, housing, and economic advancement. More information regarding this workgroup can be accessed here.