It’s day 133 since the first case of coronavirus disease was announced in the United States. One week ago, on Memorial Day, Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis, MN. On Tuesday, a bystander’s video upended an antiseptic police report. And a nation that has been in shock from coronavirus was once again confronted with police violence inflicted on black men.
The protests spread across the country like a California wildfire. Perhaps the horrific video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in southeast Georgia was one spark. Maybe the senseless murder of Breonna Taylor in her own Louisville home was another. And then there was the surreal video of Amy Cooper in Central Park. Another spark. Minneapolis police arresting CNN journalist Omar Jimenez while he doing a live standup. Another spark.
Localities that had slowly loosened restrictions on movement put in place to counter COVID-19 found themselves tied down even more severely than before. My small (40K) suburban Seattle community had a 5 pm curfew today. Protests continue to ripple across the country, reminiscent of 1968.
The two, protests and disease, are not as dissimilar as you might think.
“Racism is a social determinant of health. It affects the physical and mental health of blacks in the U.S. So I wouldn’t weigh these crises separately.” Dr. Elaine Nsoesie, an assistant professor of global health at Boston University.
In the US, people of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, due in part to years of systemic racism and a resultant poor health. It’s also the kinds of jobs they hold: “people of color make up 75 percent of New York City’s frontline workers.”
“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to realize that the health of all of us depends on the health of each of us,” says Dr. Alicia Fernandez, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, told NPR.
Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater.
In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it’s more than four times greater.
White deaths from COVID-19 are lower than their share of the population in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
People of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in the UK as well. In addition, “two-thirds of the more than 200 health workers who’ve died of COVID-19 are minorities.”
An open letter, “[i]nitially written by infectious disease experts at the University of Washington,” argues that the protests are vital and cities could reduce COVID-19 risk by refusing to use respiratory irritants, such as tear gas or smoke. Instead, we see a video of a police officer pulling a man’s mask from his face, attacking him with pepper spray not even at arm’s distance, and then walking away.