Why Talk About Racism and Equity in the Middle of a Pandemic?
We are in the midst of a crisis that is far beyond what most of us have ever encountered. There are multiple emergencies to handle and prepare for right now – ensuring proper protective equipment for essential workers; freeing up hospital beds and safe quarantine space; increasing testing capacity; ensuring no students fall behind as school goes online; large scale loss of income; increased mental health needs; and ensuring everybody in our community are able to meet their basic needs are just a few examples.

It feels overwhelming to expect leaders at any level to factor in issues of race and equity as they are navigating the response to COVID-19. Yet, that is what they must do. As with so many aspects of our current situation, if we had acted sooner – in this case much sooner- managing the response would be easier and equity would be built into our community response to any crisis. Unfortunately, it is clear from the limited data we have and the many stories we hear, that past and present policies and societal norms have put people of color at greater risk for COVID-19 infection, more severe complications from the disease, and likely, a longer road to economic stability than those who are part of more privileged communities in our region. The data on race and COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts paints a picture of the disproportionate impact. In the weeks between 4/8/20 and 4/22/20: [1]

Hispanic/Latinx Cases were 3x the rate of White cases
Black/African-American Cases were 2.5x the rate of White cases
 
Structural Racism
We could spend pages listing policies that have paved the way for success for many while throwing up roadblocks for too many others. From red-lining policies that did not allow people of color to buy homes in certain neighborhoods to present day policies that may put highly capitalized businesses at the front of the line for government loans, there are many ways structural racism has limited opportunity. This has set the context for the disparities we see exasperated in the current crisis.
We know that limited access to these things has led to vast health disparities. This is especially worrisome in a COVID-19 world where those with pre-existing conditions are far more likely to experience severe complications and death when they contract the virus. Asthma is one example of a lung condition that affects people of color at higher rates in Massachusetts, making them more vulnerable right now.
Moving Forward
As we all think about the immediate and long-term response to COVID-19, equity needs to be at the center of all decisions. A pandemic underscores the interconnectedness of us all. We can only stay healthy and strong as a community if we all can be healthy. Polices and programs that work to dismantle the effects of structural racism are essential.

There are groups who have been working for years to promote equity in our community. Many are taking up the challenge of continuing to advocate for equity throughout the current crisis. For information on specific advocacy efforts and more information on equity and coronavirus, check out these links:

Massachusetts Public Health Association’s Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity: https://mapublichealth.org/covid19equity/

Health Resources in Action’s information on COVID-19 and Inequity:

MetroWest Health Foundation COVID-19 resources :

[1] Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Cases from 4/8-4/22. Analysis from Massachusetts Public Health Association.
Metrowest Health Foundation
161 Worcester Rd. Framingham, MA 01701 | 508-879-7625 | www.mwhealth.org