COVID-19 does not discriminate. In the Navajo Nation alone, 0.023% of their population tested positive for COVID-19 by April 20, whereas in the entire U.S. population, 0.0081% of people tested positive for the virus. The exponential infection of Indigenous tribes is largely due to a lack of sufficient medical resources and infrastructure, as well as low exposure to antigens. The Navajo Nation being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 reflects how all BIPOC communities are facing higher infection and mortality rates during this pandemic.
In the U.S., Black people make up less than 15% of the population but account for over 20 percent of COVID-related deaths. In addition, a study comparing minority Latinx counties within the U.S. found that the Latinx population comprised the majority of COVID-related cases and deaths.
BIPOC communities are bearing the burden of the majority of COVID-19 infections, and this is due to the intersection of economic disparities, cultural barriers, and institutionalized racism present in the healthcare system.
The economic plunge resulting from the pandemic has hit BIPOC communities significantly harder than the rest of the population. Prior to the rise in unemployment, government policies dating back to the 1935 Wagner Act, or National Labor Relations Act, excluded BIPOC communities from receiving the same economic benefits that white people were given. The policy specifically excluded agricultural workers and domestic workers from joining unions or bargain collectively with their employers.
Historically racist bills in the U.S. affect BIPOC today and determine how much money BIPOC communities can put toward paying for food, housing, and healthcare — necessities that directly influence an individual’s health. Because of the greater inability to afford more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, Black communities are twice as likely than whites to develop chronic disease such as diabetes, lung diseases, and cardiovascular conditions.
Historically racist bills in the U.S. still determine how much money BIPOC communities can put toward paying for food, housing, and healthcare — necessities that directly influence an individual’s health.
Similar to how a lack of resources impacts Black people, the Navajo people are also more likely to have pre-existing health conditions than white people, putting them at greater risk for COVID-related mortality. In the Navajo Nation, The Navajo Area Indian Health Services only has 222 hospital beds available to serve more than 244,000 Native Americans.
The Indian Health Services have faced extreme underfunding from Congress, causing them to operate with an insufficient number of staff and medical supplies. Multigenerational housing is also prevalent within the Navajo Nation, increasing their chance of contracting the virus due to a lack of social distancing. This is especially harmful to older members in the household.
The persistent wealth gap has also made BIPOC communities more likely to live in worse housing conditions compared to white people. An example of this is in relation to the lack of running water in many Indigenous tribes that makes hand-washing, which is extremely important to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a luxury that many households do not have.
Due to the wealth gap and school-to-prison pipeline, at every level of education, Black people are more likely to be unemployed than white people. Due to COVID-19, nearly half of the Latinx population in the U.S. said they or someone in their household took a pay cut or lost their job. Persisting food and housing insecurity can lead to chronic stress and mental health issues, which wears down immunity, making BIPOC more susceptible to the virus.
Black and Latinx communities are also more likely to be uninsured as a result of ethnic disparities in health insurance coverage rates and the inability to afford expensive healthcare. With unstable health insurance, patients may choose to seek short-term solutions or treatment plans that require less follow up appointments, when not medically advised.
BIPOC communities are already over-represented in low-paying frontline jobs. Without the luxury of working from home, low-income essential workers are putting their lives at risk to serve predominantly white communities. In these low-paying industries such as agriculture and domestic or service occupations, people are more likely to contract COVID-19 due to crowded work environments, the inability to take off work, and a lack of masks and other personal protective equipment.
Without the luxury of working from home, low-income essential workers are putting their lives at risk to serve predominantly white communities.
In addition, without sufficient savings available to set aside for healthcare, BIPOC communities are less likely to visit healthcare professionals to treat illnesses. Language and cultural barriers may hinder those from receiving accurate health information, or feeling like they can trust their providers. People who are undocumented are also not likely to see their doctors for non-emergency care because of fear of being deported by ICE. These persistent issues in healthcare significantly inhibit BIPOC communities from receiving medical attention when absolutely needed.
The healthcare system in place ensures that physicians treating patients with unstable insurance are biased in terms of specialist referrals or surgical procedures performed. This bias in place may not be giving the patients the best care possible and can increase their risk of developing health conditions later.
The intersection of historic and ongoing economic disparities and healthcare outcomes have obstructed BIPOC from receiving quality medical care, a cycle which has now resulted in BIPOC facing the worst mortality rates in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without taking the decisive steps to advance the cause of BIPOC-centered healthcare — such as educating workers on treating BIPOC, transforming inequalities within the workplace, and reworking federal legislation — the health and lives of BIPOC will never be as prioritized as the rest of the population.
Last updated 9/14/20
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