As the world and the United States reel from the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that specific communities are suffering more than others.
In America, there are discussions about how we can "get back to normal." This sidesteps the question of how as a country, we should be turning toward bold and visionary initiatives to engage the intrinsic connection between structural racism, our healthcare system, immigration policy, and the environment.
Although environmental justice has been amplified with precision by actors like Dr. Robert Bullard and Mustafa Ali (who worked at the EPA for twenty-four years), the pandemic is now making it beyond evident how deeply intertwined numerous factors are.
A recent study, "The Impact of COVID-19 on Latinos in the U. S" drills down on the reality of life for this demographic, both with stats and personal stories. Compiled by the Mijente Support Committee and the Labor Council for Latin America Advancement, it draws a road map of how the elements of social and economic inequities from a lack of accessible healthcare, poverty, low-paying jobs, food insecurity, and instability resulting from immigration status have combined to put Latinx individuals at the uppermost rates for Americans dying from COVID-19.
April national unemployment rate figures showed the Latinx sector at 18.9 percent, 4.7 percent over whites. Latinx are 16 percent of the total American workforce. They also comprise the majority of workers in low paying jobs, many in the "essential workers sector. These encompass harvesting crops on farms, taking care of the elderly, keeping grocery store check-out lines moving, retail and service positions. Yet, only 38.2 percent of this labor force receives healthcare.
Before the pandemic, Latinx were already fighting disproportionate economic challenges. The 2017 U.S. census showed that 2.5 percent of Latinx families live below the poverty line twice the national poverty rate.
Underlying and preexisting health issues is another reason for Latinx having a higher rate of COVID-19 mortalities. These include diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and hypertension. The last two illnesses are directly impacted by air pollution.
Harvard University compiled a national study looking at the connection between long-term exposure to air pollution and fine particulate matter, and the "increased risk" from COVID-19. The findings showed a relationship between even tiny increases in ongoing exposure, resulting in a "large increase" in the virus death rate.
In my state of New York, Department of Health figures updated on May 11, reported fatalities by ethnicity as follows: Latinx were at the top with 14 percent, despite being 12 percent of the population. In all the boroughs of New York City, Latinx led fatalities at 34 percent, despite making up only 29 percent of the population.
Then there is the glaring reality of immigration detention facilities. Before COVID-19 hit, holding spaces were being called out for a shocking lack of hygienic resources, as basic as soap and toothbrushes.
In 2017, there were 10.5 million undocumented people in America. 9 million were Latinx. Two-thirds of those people had lived in the United States for over a decade with no health coverage and no government assistance, despite paying taxes.
- Would communities of color be left behind in getting COVID-19 healthcare, if the levels of infection impacting white people dropped off?
- If a vaccine is uniformly available to all people should it be at no cost?
Corbin-Mark responded, "Yes. There's no reason not to have the vaccine free for all people." His primary concern was that people would "return to business as usual." He said, "How do we build an America that's ready for the next pandemic? Frontline communities have always known about the lack of access to healthcare and housing. We've tried to raise the alarm about these challenges. The response has not been acceptable."
Reflecting on the communities he organizes in, Corbin-Mark emphasized, "Our inability to recognize ICE facilities or prisons as hot-spots, the needs of the homeless and unsheltered, the people who are working in meatpacking factories we have to focus our attention on them. Otherwise, we are sentencing them to death."
He added, "In a country as rich as ours, we have to figure this out. As a society, we also have to have compassion. If we don't, we do so at our own risk."
This is where the potential power of Latinx voters comes in. In three decades, Latinx people will make up 30 percent of the American population.
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