America’s history of racism was a preexisting condition for COVID-19

A Louisiana pastor prays as his parishioners die, first from cancer and now from COVID-19. An Indigenous community in New Mexico lacks adequate health care as the death toll mounts. A sick hospital worker in New Jersey frets about infecting others in her heavily populated neighborhood.



a group of people standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Parishioners stand in Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Reserve, LA, during a sermon by Rev. Fr. Christopher Chike Amadi.


© Jasper Colt, USA TODAY
Parishioners stand in Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Reserve, LA, during a sermon by Rev. Fr. Christopher Chike Amadi.

As the country cries out for a vaccine and a return to normal, lost in the policy debates is the reality that COVID-19 kills far more people of color than white Americans. This isn’t a matter of coincidence, poor choices or bad luck – it’s by design. 

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A team of USA TODAY reporters explored how the policies of the past and present have made Black, Asian, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans prime targets for COVID-19. They found:

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America’s education and economic systems are still unequal, disproportionately leaving people of color out of higher-wage jobs. When COVID-19 struck, more people of color were serving as essential workers directly in the path of the virus.

Decades of discrimination in housing corralled people of color into tightly packed neighborhoods, fueling the virus’ spread. Those neighborhoods tend to lie in “food deserts,” leading to diabetes, obesity and heart disease that make people more likely to die from the virus.

Environmental policies designed by white power brokers at the expense of the poor has poisoned the air they breathe, fueling cancers and leaving communities weakened in the path of the virus. A lack of federal funding left the most vulnerable communities cut off from healthcare at the most critical moment.

Put simply, America’s history of racism was itself a preexisting condition.

Of the 10 U.S. counties with the highest death rates from COVID-19, seven have populations where people of color make up the majority, according to data compiled by USA TODAY. Of the top 50 counties with the highest death rates, 31 are populated mostly by people of color. 

“COVID-19 has brought out into the open, with painful clarity, these divisions in our society that have been there for a long time but, for one reason or another, people were able to overlook them,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College.

With nearly 1,000 people a day dying from the virus and scientists scrambling to grasp exactly how the virus spreads and kills, federal and state data has not provided enough demographic detail to show the full impact on communities of color. The race and ethnicity of people who contract the virus is known in 52% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

But study after study has shown clear patterns in whom the virus kills.

How systemic racism led to COVID-19’s rapid spread among people of color

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Cities Declare Racism a Health Crisis, but Some Doubt Impact | Wisconsin News

By SOPHIA TAREEN, Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Christy DeGallerie noticed a startling trend in her online group for coronavirus survivors: White patients got medications she’d never heard of, were offered X-rays and their doctors listened to their concerns.

That wasn’t her experience. When the 29-year-old Black woman sought a COVID-19 test at a New York emergency room, a nurse said she didn’t have a fever. DeGallerie appealed to a doctor of color, who told the nurse to check again. It registered 101 degrees.

“We know our pain is questioned and our pain is not real to them,” said DeGallerie, who later started a group for Black COVID-19 survivors. “Getting medical help shouldn’t be discouraging for anyone. It is a discouraging place for Black people.”

Addressing experiences like DeGallerie’s has become a priority for a growing number of local governments, many responding to a pandemic that’s amplified racial disparities and the call for racial justice after the police killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans. Since last year, about 70 cities, roughly three dozen counties and three states have declared racism a public health crisis, according to the American Public Health Association.

Local leaders say formally acknowledging the role racism plays not just in health care but in housing, the environment, policing and food access is a bold step, especially when it wasn’t always a common notion among public health experts. But what the declarations do to address systemic inequalities vary widely, with skeptics saying they are merely symbolic.

Kansas City, Missouri, and Indianapolis used their declarations to calculate how to dispense public funding. The mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, a mostly white community of roughly 40,000, used a declaration to make Juneteenth a paid city employee holiday. The Minnesota House passed a resolution vowing to “actively participate in the dismantling of racism.” Wisconsin’s governor made a verbal commitment, while governors in Nevada and Michigan signed public documents.

“It is only after we have fully defined the injustice that we can begin to take steps to replace it with a greater system of justice that enables all Michiganders to pursue their fullest dreams and potential,” Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said in a statement.

Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County takes credit for being the first with its May 2019 order. It acted because of sobering health disparities in Wisconsin’s most populous county, where nearly 70% of the state’s Black residents live. It’s the only county with a significantly higher poverty rate than the state average, 17.5% compared with 10.8% statewide, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison report.

County officials developed a “racial equity budget tool,” requiring departments to explain plans to hire and retain a diverse workforce and how budgets affect disadvantaged communities.

“The framing helped accelerate the conversation, not only stakeholders could actually grasp and understand,” said Jeff Roman, head of the county’s Office on African American Affairs.

Kansas City was another early adopter in August 2019. Councilwoman Melissa Robinson called it a new decision-making lens.

For instance, when the

Medicine’s Changing View Of Racism Towards Healthcare Professionals

Almost a decade ago, I was subject to a racist tirade by a patient.

The patient told me, “Why don’t you go back to India?”  

I responded angrily to the patient: “Why don’t you leave this [expletive] hospital?” 

I sought guidance on how to cope with and respond to the patient’s racism and found little.  The institution at which I worked had no policies in place that guided my response.

I had the patient’s care reassigned to other physicians and subsequently wrote about my experience and reflections in an essay called, “The Racist Patient,” that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and featured in the New York Times.

My conclusion: there were limits to service and the abuse to which we might accept as healthcare professionals.

The essay generated controversy and drew two different kinds of responses.

The first set of responses was from sympathetic physicians with like experiences who felt unprotected by the institutional cultures in which they worked.  

I heard from an African American physician whose hospital routinely reassigned patients from his care so as to not compromise their patient satisfaction results.

I heard also from a pharmacist whose management accommodated a patient request to not have “that Paki touching [their] meds or speaking to [her] about them so make sure the other pharmacist is available.”  

One Vietnamese-American academic physician wrote:

“I am of Vietnamese-descent and your article had a resounding impact on me.  I have experienced such overt racist and sexist comments in my career made so much more difficult when it is directed at me as an attending physician and in front of my residents.”

The second, more dominant set of responses was from physicians who held the view that healthcare professionals are somehow held to a higher ethical standard, that the unwritten code of professionalism requires us to ignore our own feelings and continue to care for patients regardless of their views.

One physician wrote an extensive letter to me in response:

“The tone and words in your article demonstrate to me that you have a long way to travel, not to India or anywhere else, but to a place in your heart that tells you that being a good doctor means that patients, even difficult patients, deserve better treatment than that which you gave to [the patient]….But upon further reflection you arrogantly felt justified in not apologizing to him because ‘there are clear limits’ to your service. Yes, doctors are not slaves, submitting to any kind of abuse but your….response was not professional.”

Another physician wrote a published letter to the Annals of Internal:

“His complaint was legitimate…You missed an opportunity to heal and win over a fellow man.”

I certainly regretted my angry instinctual initial response—but also felt that the traditional institutional perspective on abusive, racist patients is medicine’s own version of “the customer is always right.” Being a medical

Om of Medicine employees claim they were fired for speaking against racism

ANN ARBOR, MI — Former employees of a downtown Ann Arbor marijuana dispensary say managers fired them for speaking up against racial injustice and attempting to unionize.

Ana Gomulka, former social equity program coordinator, and Lisa Conine, former community outreach coordinator, attempted to have conversations with Om of Medicine managers on improvements amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck during an arrest.

The two asked managers to make a public statement about the movement, but Gomulka said they instead sent employees an email.

The two were later fired and immediately filed for wrongful termination through the National Labor Relations Board, Gomulka and Conine confirmed.

However, Om of Medicine co-founder Mark Passerini denies violating anyone’s rights.

“Om of Medicine categorically denies engaging in any activity that violates employees’ rights under the NLRA,” Passerini said in a statement. “Om of Medicine is also committed to equal employment opportunity, treating everyone fairly and maintaining an environment free of discrimination, harassment and intimidation,”

Employees picketed outside of the dispensary on Wednesday, Sept. 23, to stand “for real justice in this industry” and support the terminated employees, Gomulka said.

Cannabis retailer aims to break down stigma by ‘normalizing’ marijuana

“They tried intimidating us for speaking up against racism,” said Gomulka, who identifies as a multicultural Black person. “We know the cannabis industry. Over 85% of owners of cannabis, especially in our state, are white. It was very shocking they promoted me in this position and wouldn’t let me do my work.”

The reaction also shocked Conine, she said, as Om of Medicine is a known “trailblazer and taking a stance on everything” in the community.

“That was really disheartening with all of us, Conine said. “That hasn’t been our experience at Om of Medicine,”

Previous social media posts indicate the company stands against police brutality toward communities of color and note social inequities in the cannabis industry, citing people of color often are made as victims of mass incarceration and in constant fear of law enforcement.

Passerini said he and the “Omies” pride themselves in cannabis education, reform and helping communities “right the wrongs caused from cannabis prohibition by seeking out opportunities to lift up those harmed by the war on cannabis.”

“Om of Medicine’s three core principles have been central to our mission,” Passerini said in a statement. “First, serve our patients and customers with quality cannabis products in a safe and responsible manner. Second, provide our Omies, a fair, safe, and respectful workplace. Third, focus our advocacy efforts on one goal: to replace prohibition with opportunity so that our patients and consumers can safely learn about and procure cannabis for healing and responsible use,

“To achieve this, we have always had an open-door policy to all community members, including elected officials, community leaders, and law enforcement. Working together, we have kept our patients safe to access their medicine with no issues for over

Experts: Tackling Poverty and Racism as Public Health Crises Requires Rapid Action | National News

Late last month, the Healthcare Anchor Network, a coalition of more than three dozen health systems in 45 states and Washington, D.C., released a public statement declaring: “It is undeniable: Racism is a public health crisis.” In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in May, many states, cities and counties across the United States issued similar declarations, according to the American Public Health Association.

While it is becoming clear that ZIP code may matter more to longevity than genetic code, some public health experts have been sounding the alarm for decades. Indeed, poverty and racism have an enormous – and devastating – impact on health, according to a panel of experts brought together for a webinar hosted by U.S. News & World Report as part of the Community Health Leadership Forum, a new virtual event series.

In Chicago, as just one example, life expectancy between some neighborhoods can vary by 30 years, because of factors like access to health care, education, nutritional food sources, income and what many call systematic disinvestment dating back decades.

COVID-19 has made such inequities impossible to ignore. Expected at first to be “the great equalizer,” hitting all demographics equally hard, the novel coronavirus has caused impoverished, mostly Black and underrepresented minority populations to suffer far more death and ill health effects than their white peers.

COVID-19 “attacks vulnerabilities in a truly diabolical way,” said featured speaker Wes Moore, chief executive officer of Robin Hood, one of the nation’s leading anti-poverty organizations.

“We are going to need a concerted and a collective effort to deal with a calcified and hard problem” of poverty and racism and how they influence health, Moore said. Half of the population of New York City lived in poverty for at least one year over the past four years, Moore said, and the probability of dipping back into poverty within a year was 37% – even before COVID-19 hit. “The data continues to reinforce the fact that … [poverty] is not a choice of the person who is feeling the weight of poverty, it’s society’s choice,” Moore said.

Those in poverty are far more likely to have preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes and obesity, Moore noted, putting them at greater risk of death from COVID-19 and other illnesses.

In his new book, “Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City,” Moore examined the 2015 death of Freddie Gray and its aftermath in the city of Baltimore. Moore wrote that Gray, born premature and underweight to a heroin-addicted mother, had grown up in poverty and was exposed to lead at a far greater rate than the limit recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Freddie Gray never had a shot,” Moore said, because he was failed by every social system, including the health system, and not just law enforcement.

Yet Moore remains optimistic. “We are not yet what we can be; our responsibility to get there is our responsibility to get there,” he said. Citing a

How Racism Slowly Chips Away at Black People’s Health

Enduring is all I have. It’s what my ancestors passed on.

This is Race and Medicine, a series dedicated to unearthing the uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening truth about racism in healthcare. By highlighting the experiences of Black people and honoring their health journeys, we look to a future where medical racism is a thing of the past.


A close relative asked if I watched the full videos of the most recent series of “open season” on Black life: the violence against Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, to name a few.

The truth is, I don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to endure watching these videos.

I’m just trying to stay well so I don’t compromise my immune system and catch a life threatening virus that’s attacking people’s respiratory systems. Meanwhile, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement is ironically echoed by the slogan “I can’t breathe.”

I want to watch these videos to shake off my numbness, even go out and protest. Unfortunately, maintaining my health won’t allow me to show up in this way.

I sometimes find myself in bed trying to sleep long enough to miss the endless terrorizing news cycle with no trigger warnings. I’m overwhelmed and angry, and there’s no justice in sight.

With each shooting, life gets put on hold while I try to reckon again. I conjure up coping mechanisms for now. Running, cooking, and listening to music tend to divert my attention just long enough before the next news story.

However, I still feel burdened by this cycle, like there’s truly no escaping this racist society. Enduring is all I have. It’s what my ancestors passed on.

We are all focusing on protecting both our physical and our mental health during this pandemic; however, navigating this crisis is especially difficult for African Americans.

COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting the Black community. Black people are more likely to be essential workers in frontline jobs and are at a higher risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

On top of that, Black people are still fighting and marching to end systemic injustice. It all serves to reinforce how trivial Black life is considered in America. The weight of this reality is more than exhausting — it’s deteriorating.

Arline Geronimus, a Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan, developed the term weathering in 1992 to best describe what’s taking place.

Geronimus’ study found racial inequalities in health across a range of biological systems among adults. The study also found that these inequalities can’t be explained by racial differences in poverty.

Geronimus spoke with Healthline about her work.

“Weathering is… what happens to your body in a racist society. I named it weathering because I saw it as a way of capturing what it does,” Geronimus says. “Weathering happens when Black people have to demonstrate…resiliency in a racist society.”

There are numerous ways weathering can take place, from passing on trauma from one generation to the next, to workplace