Coronavirus Is Another Chapter in a Long Tragedy

Coronavirus Is Another Chapter in a Long Tragedy
Image: (Getty)

Growing up in Louisiana, I’ll never forget footage from Hurricane Katrina of thousands packed into untenable living conditions in the wake of the storm, amid official messages of “We’ll get through this,” that were light on plans for how. There was little acknowledgment that black populations were the hardest hit. The message was “we, we, we,” but the slow, incomplete path to recovery made it clear that there was no “we,” between officials and those they purported to serve.

America’s history is threaded with a long narrative of the government failing to provide resources for its most vulnerable communities during times of illness and unrest, often leaving minority communities to die while boasting messages of solidarity. And as America scrambles for access to medical equipment and testing supplies to treat the epidemic of covid-19 cases, demographic information compiled by individual states has begun to depict a familiar story: black and brown communities are experiencing disproportionate hardship once again as data reveals them to be the hardest hit by the virus and the most underserved, reporting both a higher number of cases and deaths.

Across the country, from Louisiana to Florida and Michigan data shows that minority communities are suffering a higher rate of infection and death than the overall population. In Michigan, just 14 percent of the overall population is black, yet the state’s black population accounted for 31 percent of its total covid-19 cases and 41 percent of deaths. Incoming Florida data shows five counties with higher rates of hospitalization and death for Latinx and black residents with covid-19. In Louisiana, where one-third of the population is black, “Slightly more than 70 percent of all the [covid-19] deaths in Louisiana are of African Americans,” according to Governor John Bel Edwards.

Experts attribute these disparities to the fact that minority patients are not being tested for covid-19 as often as white patients, are less likely to have health insurance to cover the costs of being treated for the virus, and are not as likely to be given priority when hospital equipment, like masks and ventilators, are scarce.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where black residents account for 75 percent of the county’s deaths, residents say that lack of access to food and other supplies close to home makes it difficult to follow social distancing guidelines, and local government’s failures to address disparities leave many at-risk and relying on community-distributed care packages of food, masks, and cleaning supplies.

Despite pressure from politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Ayanna Pressley, who wrote a letter last week demanding nationwide demographic data regarding covid-19 testing and deaths, many cities, including New York and Atlanta, have failed to release this information.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control told Politico the organization will release racial demographic data around covid-19 deaths, just “not for a while.” A “while” could mean anything from weeks to years, leaving vulnerable people with no immediate avenues for supplies, testing, or treatment. [Politico]

Another contributing factor to covid-19 deaths could be poor air quality, according to a new nationwide study out of the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which found that counties with higher levels of hazardous particles called PM 2.5 also had higher rates of deaths from coronavirus complications.

The study looked at 3,080 counties in the United States and reported that reducing air pollution could have lessened the impact of coronavirus in metropolitan areas:

“The paper found that if Manhattan had lowered its average particulate matter level by just a single unit, or one microgram per cubic meter, over the past 20 years, the borough would most likely have seen 248 fewer covid-19 deaths by this point in the outbreak.”

The study is being fast-tracked for peer review and will be published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Though the above items aren’t linked in any news reports, and I am perhaps not smart enough to even read the New England Journal of Medicine, I would not be at all surprised if further study found a link between our nation’s shittiest air and its most at-risk populations.

  • Should Bernie stay or should Bernie go? Perhaps the Wisconsin votes will shed some light on the question. [Washington Post]
  • Oh wait, sorry, no. Wisconsin’s closed, especially to the black voters disproportionately affected by coronavirus. [Twitter]
  • Try and guess which one of these women is our new White House Press Secretary (hint: it’s the blonde one). [Twitter]
  • President Trump has fired the Pentagon inspector general who was supposed to oversee the distribution of the $2 trillion relief effort. The EPA guy who let the air quality in cities become so bad it killed people is going to do it instead. [HuffPost]
  • Even the bad guys tried to warn Trump about covid-19, which puts one in mind of a bunch of cinematic rats running out of a sewer just before the whole thing explodes. [New York Times]
  • Bless Elizabeth Warren who still just wants to help, for some reason. [Mother Jones]
  • Meanwhile, those scrambling sewer rats are making the time to shill snake oil to desperate people for a quick buck. [New York Times]
  • Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has apologized and resigned following leaked audio of him calling the former commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt “stupid.” No word on whether he crossed his fingers during said apology, which would render any take backsies non-binding in a playground court of law. [CNN]
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