As COVID-19 surges in South and West, racial disparities in health, economic distress will intensify

As COVID-19 surges in South and West, racial disparities in health, economic distress will intensify

The coronavirus surge in the West and the South is likely going to exacerbate the already vast racial disparities the disease has exposed in the U.S., the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) warns. “As of July 8th, we identified 33 states as hotspots (experiencing recent increases in cases and an increasing positivity rate or positivity rate over 10%), 23 of which were in the South and West,” KFF writes of their latest analysis. Communities of color are already facing a higher infection rate, higher hospitalization rate, and a larger death toll—as well as greater economic challenges—than their white counterparts.

KFF researchers predict the surge in the South and West will likely hit Hispanic people particularly hard. That’s because 71% of the nation’s Hispanic population is in the 23 Southern and Western states that are the latest virus hotspots. Likewise in the South, Black people are a much larger share of the population than in the nation as a whole; 31% in Georgia, 34% in Louisiana, and 38% in Mississippi. Furthermore, 59% of Asian people and 62% of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) people live in the states that are now seeing infection rates surging. Altogether, nearly two-thirds of people of color in the U.S. live in these 23 states: 62% of them live there compared to 43% of white people.

While many of these states had relatively few cases prior to the reopening resurgence of the disease, the people of color within these states were more likely to be among those affected. As of July 6, KFF reports: “Black people accounted for a higher share of COVID-19 related deaths compared to their share of the population in 13 of these states that were reporting deaths by race/ethnicity.” Likewise, in 13 states “Hispanic people made up a larger share of cases compared to their share of the population.” In Tennessee and Arkansas, “their share of cases is over three times higher than their share of the population.” And in Arizona, “AIAN people made up 7% of cases and 16% of deaths compared to just 4% of the population” while in Nevada, “Asian people made up 14% of deaths compared to 8% of the population.”

People of color are many of the essential workers who’ve had no choice but to expose themselves to the disease. They are likelier to be fearful of or have difficulties in accessing services in their communities—especially immigrant families because of Trump’s immigration policies. Because of underlying health conditions that come with living in this society as a person of color, they are more likely to experience serious illness if they contract the virus.

Finally, eight out of the 23 states now emerging as hotspots haven’t implemented Medicaid expansion, so access to care for all of their low-income residents, and disproportionately those of color, is in general awful. When we finally shake the disease (and the disease that is Trump and a Republican Senate), there should be health care for everybody. And right now, it means doing whatever we can to force Congress into addressing health inequity now. Also, put on a mask.

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