We’ve been hearing a lot about how “we are all in this together” in facing the global pandemic that is COVID-19. We are all experiencing the need to physical distance, not being able to see and be with loved ones, working remotely for those of us who aren’t considered essential workers, making limited trips for groceries, the pharmacy, and to exercise, and for many, facing job loss. Most parents are challenged to entertain, support and educate their children. This is an international experience that touches everyone. And, while this is a time of global shared experiences, the impact of COVID-19 physically, emotionally, and economically is not equal.
We can see this racial disparity in COVID-19 rates across the country. A new resource from Johns Hopkins University allows us to look down to the county-level, providing standardized rates. When looking at North Carolina on the map, we can see that the county with the highest COVID-19 rate is Northampton (310/100k population). Northampton is 57% African American. In Orange County, we also see these disproportionalities, 37% percent of COVID-19 cases are in Black community members, while they make up just 12% of our County’s population. In New Orleans, 70% of those who have died are black, although African Americans make up only 32% of the state population.
We know that all systems in the US were created to advantage white people and have resulted in long-term inequities for populations of color. We see this in all measures of well-being including now COVID-19. Orange County is a microcosm of what we see everywhere in terms of lack of or disinvestment in communities of color, like the lack of sewer and water in the historically Black community of Rogers Road, siting of environmental hazards, like the long-time landfill in Rogers Road and the industrial land uses near the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Carrboro. These disparities arise in part from the racial wealth gap, generational wealth building, typically through home ownership, that long excluded communities of color because of redlining and residential segregation (see Durham’s redlining map here and information about Segregated by Design here). We see disparities due to unequal access to health insurance and paid sick leave. We see disparities in who is at risk based on the kinds of jobs they are able to find. We see disparities in education especially now as children of color are less likely to have access to the internet and computers. Covid-19 is bringing these inequities front and center.
These policy decisions have lasting impacts on the health and well-being of community members. As Dr. Joia Crear-Perry from the National Birth Equity Initiative says, “when we talk about disparities we should talk about policies and not people because racism is the risk factor, not race.”
Here are some things that can be done in the short-term:
- Adhere to our stay at home order, which is important for both our health and the health of our neighbors.
- When we have to go out for essential trips like grocery shopping, to the pharmacy, or to recreate we need to be serious about observing physical distancing guidelines and not go out if we’re sick.
- Wear a mask in situations where it may be difficult to maintain physical distancing
- We need to wash our hands regularly and well.
- Read stories and articles that come your way about what is happening to black and brown people during this time. Think about strategies offered. For example, click here to read a Health Affairs blog about Health Justice Strategies to Combat Covid-19: Protecting Vulnerable Communities During a Pandemic.
Things that are hard to do but can address root causes of racial inequities:
- Policy-makers and other leaders can participate in racial equity trainings to learn about institutional racism and our part in its perpetuation.
- Follow-up: continue the learning and create accountability structures to make sure progress is being made.
- Use racial equity tool kits to assess services, programs, and policies. These can be used throughout our organizations. That can become a mindset, our intentional way of being in our world. We’ve used this one from the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. There are examples here.
- Conduct an organizational anti-racism assessment and create an action plan. We’ve used the one here by the Coalition of Communities of Color.
- Apply Critical Race Theory principles to policy analysis of current and forthcoming Covid-19 related bills and policy strategies. Stay tuned for an upcoming post with more information. If you want to start reading begin here: Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction (Vol. 20). NYU Press