Protect Our Communities – Minorities and COVID-19
By Kimberlee Smith
People are dying. The current cases are at 5.8 million and rising, and Georgia has suffered 5,300 deaths and almost 300,000 cases. Because of long-lasting racial barriers in the United States, racial minorities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, which means that a disproportionate percentage of minorities are contracting the disease and dying. We can no longer ignore the evidence:
- African Americans account for 31% of Georgia’s population but make up almost 47% of COVID-19 deaths in the state. 80% of the patients in eight Georgia hospitals researched by the CDC were African-American COVID-19 patients.
- In New York City, Hispanics are contracting the virus more than any other ethnic group (1,830 per every 100,000 people).
- Asian Americans in South Dakota account for only 2% of the population but represent 12% of COVID-19 cases. In some states, Asian Americans are counted with Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. As a result, the government cannot determine which communities need the most help.
Because of improper education, healthcare, income, and occupation that have affected the POC communities for over 100 years, non-white Americans are statistically more susceptible to the virus. The causes are complex.
In most minority communities, students do not have access to proper education and needed learning resources, which leads to lower grades and a lack of access to a college education. The reasons why minority communities don’t have proper knowledge are multifaceted, but here are a few to explain the racial disparity in education.
- African American students are less likely to have college prep courses, and the government spends less money on the minority schools ($733 less).
- Studies show that, in 2012, only 57% of black students had college-prep math and science classes in comparison to white students’ 71%.
- Schools employ teachers with fewer qualifications and lower salaries, as well as placing novice teachers, in minority communities, with frequently lower expectations of African American students.
The reason why this is relevant to COVID-19 is that if minorities have not received the proper education as children, they cannot get higher-paying or stable jobs as adults, which would allow them to work from home during this crisis. They cannot afford to miss work, so they end up taking higher exposure to risks. Also, their lower-paying jobs often do not provide the proper health benefits to secure them treatment during this time. For this reason, any people with low-income jobs are at a higher risk of getting infected by COVID-19.
Minorities, in general, have less access to healthcare, or at least quality healthcare, than do their white counterparts. Minorities are less likely to be insured than are white people, and even when they are insured, they only have access to public health insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid, rather than private insurance. Medicare and Medicaid only apply to limited situations and age ranges. Therefore, people lacking full insurance to cover all medical needs must pay out of pocket for some procedures, which is not possible for low-income households, of which many are minorities.
Other reasons may include the racial biases against minorities by non-POC healthcare staff, which leads to improper treatment of patients and a higher percentage of deaths at younger ages than white Americans.These points factor into why more minorities don’t get tested and do not get appropriate treatment for COVID-19.
When coronavirus was first gaining traction in the United States, a person had to get a doctor’s referral to take the COVID-19 test to see if they had the virus or not. They had to pay for a doctor’s visit, hope they got a referral, then pay to take the test, which would rack up a hefty bill–all of which some minorities could not afford. Now, in some areas, a person does not need to get a doctor’s referral, but a lot of people can’t afford to pay $65 or more for the test. Some minorities don’t even seek help from the healthcare system because they don’t trust it and believe that medical professionals are racially biased and won’t treat them properly.
Most minorities live in low-income communities because they weren’t provided with proper education and couldn’t get into career avenues that would provide them with a stable income. Minorities are overrepresented in the service/essential-work industry (grocery stores, public transportation, factories, deliveries, etc.). These jobs require people to be in close contact with each other, which increases their exposure to the virus. Many minorities must take public transport to their jobs, which is another high-risk factor for COVID-19. They cannot perform these essential jobs remotely, and some people can’t afford to quit their jobs or miss work because they have no other job options and they have families to support.
Julia Raifman, assistant professor of health law at Boston University, led a study that took health factors that made people susceptible to COVID-19 (asthma, heart disease, and diabetes) and matched them to over 330,000 people from 2018 national data. The study found that low-income adults under the age of 65 were twice as likely to have one or more risk factors than were high-income adults, and were twice as likely to have multiple risk factors.
Some minorities live in multi-generational homes (grandmother, mother, daughter, etc.) that are frequently dense and crowded. It may be difficult to social distance and quarantine effectively if many people live together, which can create a higher risk of COVID-19. Because of the virus, the unemployment rates throughout minority communities lead to a greater risk of needing to share housing, of eviction, or even of homelessness.
Does this evidence relate to Georgia at all? According to the Georgia Department of Public Health Daily Status Report, the data show that Non-Hispanic African Americans in Georgia have suffered more than 55,000 COVID-19 cases and over 2,000 deaths. The data show that Non-Hispanic White Americans have sustained from 53,746 cases and almost 2,500 deaths. Non-Hispanic Asian American data shows more than 2,500 cases and 90 deaths. Hispanic/Latino data alone have not been counted, but only been added onto other races. Among 20 counties in America with the highest COVID-19 death rates, Hancock, Georgia, was number one. With 457 deaths per 100,000, this county’s largest minority group is African American. 7 out of the 15 counties with the highest COVID-19 case rates had a larger population of minorities.
The way the CDC and Department of Health count the cases is also a problem. In Georgia, only 68% of overall COVID-19 cases are accounting for race and ethnicity. As of May 2020, 48 states have only calculated by race for half of their cases and 90% of their deaths. Some states don’t even classify cases by all races–for example, West Virginia only counts white, black, or other, while other states list Hispanics under the white category. When the COVID-19 epidemic first began, the CDC didn’t report race, ethnicity, or different demographics.
The number of minorities dying from the virus is growing higher and higher. With the misinformation from the federal government, the inaccessibility of COVID-19 care to minorities, and the ongoing destruction to the POC communities, it will be harder to help the people who have been strongly affected by the virus.
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