Terry H. Schwadron
April 9, 2020
As the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader turned television host, is noting in repeated interviews, it is surprising that coronavirus is disproportionately hitting black and brown communities in New York and other cities, but it is not shocking.
Even Donald Trump is noticing the trend, and he promises data analysis later this week to confirm that fatalities are running four to five times higher among people of color, particularly poorer people of color.
In New York City, where deaths are approaching 6,000, Bronx residents are dying at twice the rate in the rest of the city, and cluster maps show the disease hotspots in areas of Queens and Brooklyn with larger numbers of black and brown residents and relatively poorer socioeconomics. City officials say that Latinos make up 34% of fatalities, as compared with 29% of population, and blacks 28% of fatalities, as compared with 22% of population.
More than 40 Metro Transit Authority workers have died of COVID-19, with bus drivers the hardest hit, clearly a profession with a higher-than-average number of employees of color. In all, 6,000 are ill with the virus.
As it turns out, New York state does not require hospital fatalities reported by race, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff is querying the data from county coroners’ offices.
While we can await the formal trends, it simply makes sense that a virus that seems more dangerous to those with underlying diseases or conditions, including asthma and respiratory disease, obesity, hypertension and diabetes, is targeting urban communities of color. Those listed underlying illnesses and conditions have long been seen as endemic to poorer areas and geographies of race.
It seems critical as we look ahead to getting by this round of pandemic deaths and start focusing on what we need to do to make for a new sense of normality.
You don’t need me to say the obvious social policies we need. The real underlying conditions here are disparities in income by race and other factors, disparities in access to health cares, disparities in housing, food stores, schools — the gamut of social equality.
To commit change in our society is going to require either a tremendous shift in ideologies, particularly among Republicans, or a total change in the current leadership regime to those who are intent on putting human needs ahead of corporate profits.
The alternative is a different health curve by race that threatens to get worse, much worse.
Access to health care for everyone, but especially in the areas where insurance companies have trouble making enough money to offer affordable plans stands out as a need shouting its primacy. It’s not going to happen from a Republican party that wants to eliminate Obamacare right in the midst of a pandemic. It’s not going to happen by small Democratic changes to the current law that address just the edges.
Whether it is called Medicare for all or public option or TrumpCare, we need health policies that start where we are seeing current hotspots, that also address rural health possibilities and keeps the real income-based equality as a central organizing principle.
We need a new commitment to affordable, safe housing, and we need an intelligent approach to homelessness, another group that will end up being disproportionately hit by this virus.
Post-disease or now, we deserve a Department of Labor that is committed to protecting workers, the kind of Cabinet agency that can pursue an agreed-upon understanding that workers require protection equipment whether they are fast-food workers bus drivers, domestic workers, home health care workers, public housing maintenance people or construction workers.
We also need an Education Department that sees its job as promoting public schools rather than what we have now.
Race continues to be the great American divider, much more even than ideology.
We are willing to sacrifice in the face of a global pandemic, but we should be able to look ahead to a world that makes itself healthier.