Most of us couldn’t predict the head spinning change that would come with the advent of COVID-19. We are living in unprecedented times where terms like “social distancing” and “stay-at-home orders” have become household terms across the nation.
It would seem COVID-19 has placed us all on the same playing field. For the first time in recent history, a deadly virus that knows no boundaries, transcends all borders, and discriminates against no one has taken the world center stage, and we are all sitting in the front row. Rich and poor people alike are being subjected to stay-at-home orders and are sheltering in place. From Prince Charles, to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to the tens of thousands suffering in the developing world, this virus has proven it is not a respecter of persons.
In reality, however, the playing field isn’t even at all. While the virus itself does not discriminate against anyone, the distribution of resources does. Those with greater opportunity also have better access to quality health care and testing. If they need a ventilator, they are more likely to get one. In other words, they are more likely to survive.
Conversely, people of color are more likely to die. A study conducted by a team of epidemiologists and clinicians from four universities suggests that more African Americans are dying from the coronavirus in the United States than are whites or other ethnic groups. They found that counties with higher populations of Back residents accounted for 52% of coronavirus diagnoses and 58% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide.
Additionally, people of color across the country are those more likely deemed essential because they hold frontline service or retail jobs. They often work for minimum wage, and with no health benefits, yet are incurring greater exposure to the deadly virus. Many feel compelled to work even if they are sick because they have no other means to pay the rent or put food on the table. Plus, they are more likely to use public transportation, putting themselves and their families at greater risk.
Staying at home while recovering from the virus is not the same for the poor. While the wealthy and middle class can safely stay in the privacy of their own home and even enjoy the luxury of a backyard, with a tutor helping their children learn from home, it is not uncommon for Latinx to live in households of more than five in small quarters. This living arrangement makes it dangerous for the entire family, and overwhelmingly stressful, especially if they do not have sick leave.
People of color have historically been marginalized and in many ways, they have been socio-economically quarantined. They do not have the same access as the wealthy to resources that would improve their health and quality of life.
This is a travesty not only for them but for the nation.
Maybe we can all learn something good from this pandemic. If we all advocate for policies and economies that are more inclusive and promote equity in the areas of life that matter most, we would be doing our country and our economy a great service.
Maybe then we can finally even the playing field for everyone.
Senior Program Strategist, IPS
Susan Caldwell, Senior Program Strategist, started her career with IPS in 2005. Her experience includes program development, project management, media advocacy, grant writing and policy strategy. Susan values diverse relationships and working to advance initiatives in unique communities through multi-sector partnerships.