COMMENTARY: Black People, the Threat of COVID-19 is Real

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Early last month, before lockdowns and social distancing efforts robbed us of our typical daily schedules, a certain rumor took root and spread like wildfire across social media. You probably heard about it at least once, be it through your Facebook feed, on Twitter, or from a friend or family member. The rumor suggested that Black people were immune to the coronavirus. In reality, this statement is not only highly inaccurate, but also incredibly dangerous.

Black people aren’t just susceptible to the coronavirus– we’re especially vulnerable to it. As COVID-19 statistics poured in from across the country, a frighteningly common theme emerged: Black people were contracting and dying of the virus at rates strikingly higher than Whites.

In Milwaukee, where Blacks make up 26% of the population, the group accounts for 81% of the deaths. In Chicago, 70% of deaths occured in the Black community, although the city itself is just 30% Black. Finally, in St. Louis, among the first 12 coronavirus deaths, all of the victims were Black. As of April 9th, we’re still waiting on more detailed data on COVID-19 deaths by race in Nashville. In the meantime, the Music City remains a “top ten” coronavirus hot spot according to The Root’s Michael Harriot.

At first, we all thought this virus might manifest as one of the few things in America that actually isn’t racist, but the enormous disparities have exposed an ugly truth: while the virus itself may be ‘colorblind’ the economic and societal structures that govern our lives are not. An article published in the Chicago Tribune earlier this week, provides some insight on these stark disparities in the Windy City. First, Black people are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart and lung disease, and high blood pressure, which are risk factors for COVID-19 death.

In addition, Black people are more likely to have poor access to high quality and potentially life- saving healthcare than other races. Finally, the ability to work from home has been exposed as one more privilege many Black people don’t have in the age of COVID-19. We’re more likely to work forward facing jobs with person-to-person contact, that cannot be completed remotely. Combined, these differences help to explain our increased vulnerability to the virus.

Now is the time to take the pandemic seriously. Next time your cousin/auntie/friend calls you up to invite you over, saying, “Black people don’t have to worry about the corona,” share this story.

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