By Maura Mulholland
COVID-19 has been an all-consuming and destructive presence internationally for over two years. While it has impacted everyone negatively, certain groups have experienced the virus with more intensity than others. COVID-19 has further emphasized disparities between racial, ethnic, and class groups, and this has been reflected in death tolls and case counts throughout the pandemic.
Black Americans are especially prone to discrimination when it comes to seeking treatment from the coronavirus. This is in large part because of discrimination and inequity within the medical system. 11.7% of Black Americans are without health insurance, compared to 7.5% of white Americans. A lack of health insurance makes a person much less likely to seek the medical treatment they need. As the pandemic spread, disparities in testing also became apparent. In Kansas, as of June 2020, only 4,854 of 94,740 tests were attributable to Black people, with 50,070 tests coming from whites. This highlights a massive lack of access to testing for Black populations, who at that time accounted for almost a third of COVID deaths despite being only 12.4% of the state population.
Medical racism plays a major role in Black medical treatment, as well. Within hospitals, Black patients are more likely to be given older and cheaper medications for the same problems white patients have, and are also more likely to be discharged early when recovering from surgery, at a stage when discharge is inappropriate. These problems stem from widespread and misinformed beliefs in the medical field, for example that Black patients feel less pain than whites, or that they are likely seeking pain medications as a result of substance problems. These biases, implicitly or explicitly, have negatively impacted the care Black Americans have received during COVID.
Beyond the abysmal disparities in the doctor’s office, social issues surrounding the pandemic have also negatively impacted Black communities. In one survey, participants were asked whether they had experienced harassment because of the spread of COVID-19, and due to perpetrators’ conclusions that they may have the disease. 22.1% of participants from major racial groups in the United States reported discriminatory behaviors relating to the coronavirus. 42.7% of participants in the same survey reported that people acted afraid of them. While this form of discrimination was most common among Asian-American and Indigenous populations, it took place most often in Mississippi, which has the highest relative population of Black Americans among the states.
COVID-19’s toll on the planet has been astronomical, upending the routines of people from all walks of life. But for marginalized groups, especially the Black population, the coronavirus has only increased discrimination and sharpened the impact of existing social stratification. Taking responsibility for public health means addressing all aspects of the way science and society intersect, and means addressing both the medical disparities and social disconnects of the modern world