According to Dr Lisa Cooper, a physician at Johns Hopkins University explained in an interview for CNN News: “This is because as a group, African Americans in the US have higher rates of poverty, housing and food insecurity, unemployment or underemployment, and chronic medical conditions and disabilities.”
In other words, racism has a biological impact on black and brown bodies; the chronic stress of everyday racism makes people sicker. African Americans are more likely to experience racial disparities which translate into higher rates of hypertension, asthma, diabetes, etc – “pre-existing conditions” that are linked to higher death rates from COVID-19 infections.
Many of these chronic illnesses emerge from environmental factors such as Black Americans living in underserved neighbourhoods that are disproportionately subjected to a lack of clean water such as in Flint, Michigan or higher rates of air pollution such as in the historically black neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City.
Of three Black Americans who had COVID-19 interviewed by The Root recently, two said they were initially sent away when they tried to get tested. One, 27-year-old Geniece Ward, noted that she was experiencing a lot of pain and her temperature was 101.9 F (38.8 C), but she was told she had to have every single symptom in order to get tested.
Some Black physicians have already sounded the alarm that amid the pandemic, the Black community may suffer disproportionately because of unequal access to health care. In an interview for Slate, Dr Uche Blackstock said: “When it’s time for clinicians to ration resources, I think we can already assume that Black patients are going to be disadvantaged because they’re not going to be listened to.”
That African Americans are disproportionately more likely to suffer from a lack of adequate care is particularly dangerous amid this pandemic because their living conditions and employment may prevent them from following social distancing guidelines and put them at a higher risk of contracting the disease in the first place.
African Americans are more likely to have essential jobs which keep the country going amid lockdowns, including in home health assistance, sanitation, public transportation and grocery stores. In New York City, at least 1,167 Metropolitan Transit Authority employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and 33 have died.
African Americans are also facing health inequities in the prison system, where they are also disproportionately represented (a third of Black men are likely to spend time in prison).
There is already a history of epidemics of infectious diseases, such as HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis C spreading in the US prison system, and public health experts are worried that problems with health provision and hygiene could make outbreaks of COVID-19 that more deadly in private and public detention centres.
The Cook County Jail outside of Chicago has already become the largest place of prison infection in the US with more than 251 inmates and 150 employees ill with the virus.
The risk of Black people dying disproportionately is not new and is all too familiar for those born and raised in America. Coronavirus is not racist, rather, it reveals racism in American society – one that speaks to a massive wealth gap, healthcare gap and housing gap.
A century ago, when African Americans were subjected to medical testing, experimentation and racial terror, we had less information about the life of viruses. Today, we have the power and resources to provide universal healthcare in the United States, yet, this is withheld because of the political myopia of the majority of the elected officials and the greed of private insurance companies.