Covid, Race, and the Revolution

Eviction bans reduce Covid deaths, building trust in a Covid vaccine, the galvanizing force of calls to defund police, and more, in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 32. December 2, 2020

Each week, PolicyLink draws from articles, videos, interviews, and our network of equity leaders to provide the latest information about Covid-19, race, and this transformative moment of protest and racial reckoning in America.

News, Analysis, and Commentary, Curated from Around the Web

Healthy, affordable housing prevents Covid

Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have contracted the coronavirus and thousands have died as a result of state policies allowing evictions to continue during the pandemic, new research shows. The research, posted here and summarized by CNBC, raises alarming questions about what will happen to renters when the federal eviction moratorium expires this month. Forty-three states and Washington, DC, temporarily halted evictions last spring. The expiration of those bans led to as many as 433,700 additional Covid cases and 10,700 additional deaths as of September, often because people were forced to move in with friends and family, increasing the number of close contacts and the risk of virus exposure.

An Arkansas prosecutor was fired for publicly speaking out against that state’s criminal eviction statute, ProPublica reports. Even as the pandemic has worsened, Arkansas continues to jail people who can’t make rent.

Chelsea, Massachusetts, a small city outside Boston, has been ravaged by Covid, but residents of affordable nonprofit housing have infection rates that are five to seven times lower than in the community overall, Shelterforce reports. Leaders of TND (The Neighborhood Developers) credit affordable rents, so residents don’t have to double up out of necessity, and access to resources that promote safety and security, such as food delivery and financial assistance. “We may not have found a vaccine for Covid-19, but healthy, affordable and service-enriched housing is clearly an excellent preventative measure,” Rafael Mares, executive director of TND, told the magazine.

Vaccines for communities of color

As the nation gears up to implement the biggest, most complicated vaccination program in US history, leaders of color in Illinois have urged Congress and state policymakers to prioritize hard-hit Black and Brown communities, the Chicago Sun Times reports

In a recent survey, a significant majority of Black and Latinx respondents said they mistrust the safety and efficacy of a Covid vaccine. Just 48 percent of Black respondents said they would probably or definitely take a free Covid vaccine, compared to 66 percent of Latinx respondents. “If we do not establish trust in a vaccine, the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to disproportionately impact people of color and reinforce the systemic racism that has long produced health inequity in our nation,” Mary O’Connor, a Yale physician and host of the Health Disparities Podcast, writes on MedPage Today.

Vaccine distribution is expected to begin this month, and top US officials appear divided over who should be first in line, Stat reports. Scientific and public health advisory committees have signaled for months that health-care workers should receive top priority, but some Trump administration officials are arguing for people 65 and older, who account for the lion’s share of serious cases and deaths.

A CDC advisory committee also has prioritized officers and staff at prisons and jails, but has not given the same consideration to incarcerated people, though thousands have died in some of the nation’s worst outbreaks, the New York Times writes.

Ultimately, federal priorities will be largely advisory: governors will determine how vaccines are distributed in their states.

The galvanizing force of calls to defund police

Exploring the dual crises of the pandemic and police brutality, Princeton scholar and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes that the fixes on offer —  brief eviction bans, temporary extra unemployment benefits, or cultural-competency training for police — are inadequate to end the problems they’re meant to solve. That’s why so many activists are calling for defunding police and dismantling harmful systems, Taylor writes on Public Books. “We are, of course, a long way from defunding the police. But no social movement shapes its agenda by what is most pragmatic and least contentious. Instead, movements begin with what they want and believe to be necessary.”

On the Radical Imagination podcast, host Angela Glover Blackwell interviews San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who’s part of a new wave of reform-minded prosecutors trying to bring accountability to the criminal-legal system and end the most egregious practices. While reform too often perpetuates the status quo, the podcast explores whether a reformer like Boudin can change mindsets, open new possibilities, and build steps that lead to deeper transformation.

The brutal story of American incarceration is often told in numbers: 2.2 million people are locked up, four times more than in 1980. “We Are Witnesses,” a collection of 19 short videos on The New Yorker website, portrays the human toll.

Racism as a health crisis

The pandemic’s outsized impact on people of color has brought widespread health inequities to the surface, but they are nothing new. Writing on The Conversation, Georgia State University psychologist Sierra Carter describes her work on a research team that has tracked the health of 800 Black American families for almost 25 years. The team found that people who experienced more racial discrimination as teens not only suffered more depression in their 20s — they also aged faster. The researchers now plan to examine early-life interventions that could offset the health effects of racism, but Covid-19 has interrupted the work.

The wildfires that have consumed millions of acres in California are pouring smoke into the lungs of children, mostly Black and Brown kids, causing damage that can have lifelong consequences, the New York Times reports. The problem is likely to get worse as climate change increases and intensifies wildfires. It’s especially acute in the Central Valley, which ranks first in the nation for particulate matter pollution.

New York City’s large South Asian population is struggling with the loss of jobs and small businesses and the risk of Covid exposure in overcrowded multigenerational housing. Shelterforce looks at the challenges through the eyes of an immigrant teen.

Amid the nation’s broader racial reckoning, Black firefighters from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Lansing, Michigan, to Denver, are calling out racism and discrimination in their departments, AP reports. 

Reconciliation and reparation

As part of a series examining whether this historic moment can lead to lasting racial reconciliation and justice, ABC News talks with leading activists about the first steps anyone can take to be an ally. “All of us are in the process of change and transformation,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “There needs to be room for that; room for debate, discussion and grappling. “There’s no such thing as an unlikely ally. We have to hold [onto] that... I don’t agree with everyone I organize with … but there’s a reason we come together.”

Author Leah Hampton traces the Appalachian roots of Nina Simone to challenge the racial and gender myths about the region that persist in the national psyche, despite the area’s diversity, activist and pro-union history, and female creativity and empowerment. “Americans have always used rural spaces to validate and perpetuate toxic masculinity, erase people of color, and justify destroying ecosystems,” she writes in Guernica. No one mentions the sacred feminine “or visits the Black and Polish and Jewish sections of our coal camp graveyards, or recounts the crucial legacy of the Highlander Folk School in the Civil Rights Movement. Neither we nor our detractors seem to appreciate our rapidly expanding Latino population, or our thriving and statistically outsized trans community.” 

Hampton continues: “It would be so easy to bring dimension and hope to our national relationship with rurality. Instead of the narrow, hyper-masculine view, instead of marginalizing the feminine, the Other, we can reclaim and more accurately reimagine rural America, especially Appalachia. I am asking you, me, all of us, to gender our understanding more tenderly, to tilt our heads toward reparation and preservation.”

In other news…

Federal regulators gave hospitals, nursing homes, and other health-care facilities broad leeway in deciding whether to report the job-related staff deaths — and many employers withheld the information even as Covid sickened and killed a growing number of health-care workers, finds an investigation by Kaiser Health News. Greater oversight could have helped identify problems before they endangered patients and other employees, and pressured the White House to sharpen guidance on Covid control, address shortages of protective gear, and hold employers responsible for workplace safety.

Joining neighboring San Francisco and San Jose, Oakland will soon roll out free Wi-Fi across a large part of the city, Oaklandside reports. Leaders hope to close the digital divide for roughly 25,000 students who don’t have the reliable technology they need for remote learning.

Continuing to educate the public

Stay Covered Together, a national public education campaign created by the Harlem Children’s Zone, aims to drive awareness about the importance of wearing masks to stay safe from Covid and protect one another. The NAACP, StriveTogether, and PolicyLink, along with respected community organizations across the country, are partners in the effort to protect communities most impacted by the devastating effects of the virus — communities challenged by poverty and economic insecurity — by enlisting everyone to play a part. 

Please share with your networks and send your ideas and feedback. And follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. #COVIDandRace

We hope you find this series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve. As a non-profit organization, PolicyLink is honored to provide resources to support the needs of our nation's 100 million economically insecure individuals. Generous partners like you make our work possible. 

Michael McAfee and Angela Glover Blackwell are grateful for the contributions of Fran Smith, Milly Hawk Daniel, Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Jennifer Pinto, Heather Tamir, Ana Louie, Janet Dickerson, and Mark Jones to produce the COVID-19 & Race commentary.