The current civil unrest around systemic and institutional racism that has been present in America for over 400 years is deeply connected to the racial and health disparities exposed by the COVID-19 crisis. Thousands of people globally have marched in the streets to protest police brutality, and many are worried about the risk of COVID-19 transmission as it is difficult to maintain six feet of distance as the crowds grow larger and larger.
According to a letter signed by over 1,200 public health professionals, infectious disease professionals, and community stakeholders, the risks of contracting COVID-19 while protesting police brutality and racial injustice amid a global pandemic shouldn’t keep people from demonstrating as long as certain guidelines, such as using a face mask, are followed.
“White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” the letter said. The letter further highlights the racial disparities in health between black and white people. Black people are 4 times more likely to die from COVID-19, so it is now important more than ever to dismantle and reform the systematic oppression in our nation today.
Many essential workers have taken the stance that fears of COVID-19’s spread is no excuse to stop people from joining policy brutality protests nationwide. Racial discrimination is already long recognized as a key social determinant of health that drives racial health inequities. Studies have shown that racism alone can expose black people to poorer health outcomes, particularly mental health.
Data shows that both black and Latinos have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in many states. COVID-19 testing sites haven’t been evenly distributed, as more of these sites are in predominantly white areas. Lower-income and predominantly-minority communities, on the other hand, are often over-policed communities with police violence, which puts these communities at risk for a variety of health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Many leading health experts have pointed out that underlying medical conditions are what make COVID-19 so deadly.
Both racism and the pandemic could lead to death. However, even the higher rates of infection and death among minorities from COVID-19 demonstrate the prevalence of racial inequality in America.
Sources: NPR 6/1/20; CNN 6/5/20; The Guardian 5/7/20; BMC Public Health 3/28/19; CDC 6/4/20; The Verge 6/3/20; New York Times 5/18/20