The report is based on new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which, though incomplete, shows alarming disparities: Black and Latino people were three times as likely to be infected as white people, and almost twice as likely to die from the virus. These painful disparities are echoed throughout the rest of a growing list of pandemic inequities. Shouldering a disproportionate burden of the economic crisis, black and Latino Americans are overrepresented among the newly unemployed. Amid a ballooning hunger crisis, almost 4 in 10 black and Hispanic households with children are struggling to put food on the table, compared with 2 in 10 white families with children. As eviction moratoriums expire around the country, experts warn that black and Hispanic renters are likely to be hit hardest. These simultaneous blows are poised to exacerbate already staggering socioeconomic gaps between white Americans and racial and ethnic minorities.
These gaps, in turn, are part of what is fueling the differences in infection and fatality rates. Black, Latino and Native Americans suffer from higher rates of certain comorbidities, the preexisting health conditions that make covid-19 more deadly. Americans also continue to rely on front-line workers who are disproportionately black and brown, who are generally poorly paid and often lack sufficient personal protective equipment. In some cases, the numbers are particularly horrifying: A CDC study on outbreaks in meat and poultry processing facilities reported 87 percent of cases occurring among racial and ethnic minorities when race and ethnicity were reported.
The racialized burdens of the coronavirus should be understood in the context of the broader, urgent mandate to reexamine the social contract for Americans of color. In the near term, though, more and better data is needed. Racial and ethnic data is still missing in far too many cases — more than half of the cases in the CDC’s recent data lacked this information. Sometimes, data-gathering practices obscure important realities. Native Americans are also contracting and dying from the virus at alarming rates, but in many states they are labeled “other,” making those cases more difficult to track.
In the short term, it won’t be possible to erase the stubborn and interlocking factors that contribute to these horrific inequities. But there is no shortage of sensible proposals to lessen the toll on black, Latino and Native Americans — from ensuring communities of color have sufficient testing to providing free isolation facilities for front - line workers and those who live in crowded, multigenerational households. The data on covid-19’s racial and ethnic impact may not be complete, but already it tells a painfully familiar story.