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COVID-19 Underscores Need for Equity in Response

As the global pandemic continues, it is clear that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. While the virus does not discriminate, it does have harsher implications for folks who are already experiencing health, environmental and economic disparities. BIPOC are more likely to acquire and die from COVID-19, evident by astronomical infection rates in ethnically diverse cities such as New York and Chicago. The disparities in care were bound to happen as the virus is only illuminating the cracks in an already broken system ill fit to serve our nation’s most vulnerable.  

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This screenshot was taken during a presentation by the Building Movement Project & SolidarityIs on
the challenges that non-profit organizations are facing during the Coronavirus pandemic when it comes to addressing the needs of disproportionately impacted populations.

At the Resident Action Project, we know that BIPOC folks are already experiencing disparities in housing and tenant protections, and are more at risk to be displaced into homelessness. Even before the COVID-19 crisis swept the globe. A February 2020 study on evictions by the University of Washington showed that in the state’s two most populous counties, eviction rates among black and Latinx adults are almost seven times higher than for white adults. Our state and federal decision makers need to center equity in their COVID-19 response or these issues will only continue to be exacerbated.

Data compiled by Mother Jones shows that in 70 percent of states that have reported accurate ethnic and racial data, African Americans make up more COVID-19 cases than is representative of their makeup in the population. To put the current rates in perspective, a recent CDC report shows that about a third of COVID infections are among African Americans despite making up only 16 percent of the country’s population. It was reported on April 21st that 65 percent of all demographic data being collected on COVID-19 cases do not include data on race. Due to this lack of data, it is suspected that infection rates among People of Color are under reported and it’s likely that the rate of positive infection is much higher. For the COVID-19 response to be truly effective and equitable, it’s crucial for states to release and track this data in order to gain supportive funding for the most impacted communities.

Indigenous communities are being hit hard as well. In Arizona, Native Americans account for 20% of deaths even though they consist of 5% of that state’s population. Navajo Nation in particular has reported 1,321 positive cases as of April 21st and has the third highest infection rate in the country after New Jersey. The cause for these high rates are tied, in part, to underfunded infrastructure. In an NBC article Dr. Loretta Christensen, the chief medical officer for the Navajo Nation, lamented, “You’re telling people, ‘Wash your hands for 20 seconds multiple times a day,’ and they don’t have running water.”  According to a John Hopkins Report, about 54,000 Navajo Nation residents do not have access to reliable clean drinking water.

The recommendations of social distancing, better put as “physical distancing,” along with access to testing and health care is a privilege afforded to few. BIPOC are more likely to work in essential or service industry jobs and are unable cannot work from the luxury of their homes. They are more likely to have to take public transportation and risk exposure from others. BIPOC are also more likely to live in urban centers or in close proximity to others where infection is not as easily contained.

Most importantly, BIPOC have higher rates of pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and asthma which put them at increased risk to develop complications or death from COVID-19. These health problems arise from centuries of historical trauma and systematic racism. To add insult to injury, access to health care for BIPOC is limited with barriers ranging from geographical distance and high treatment cost to culturally incompetent or unwilling providers.

It must be stated that undocumented, LatinX, Asian and Pacific Islander, and other people of color are suffering too. Many face economic instability or racial violence. Undocumented individuals who lose their job during this time face obstacles tapping into social safety programs. While many are ineligible to receive unemployment benefits or stimulus money, there may be local benefits they do not know to apply to.

 During these difficult times, we must stand in solidarity with each other. Leading by example is Dr. Ala Stanford, the founder of the Black Doctor’s COVID-19 Consortium. Her Philadelphia based group brings free-of-charge testing directly to residents who would be otherwise unable to access tests during via mobile testing or home visits. Locally, organizations such as the North West Immigrant Rights Project and One America have compiled resources applicable to Washington State residents. We have compiled our own list at Wliha.org/covid-19-resources.

 Once this is over, we cannot let things return to “normal” as normal was never good enough.

Written by Ly Huynh

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