Covid, Race, and the Revolution

Amid America’s racial reckoning, the nation must face up to the story of Thanksgiving, why California offers a model for equitable economic recovery, and how the rural coronavirus crisis affects us all, in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 31. November 25, 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. We offer this resource to keep racial equity at the center of our collective understanding of the pandemic and the policies needed for just, fair, inclusive relief and recovery, and to explore how the crisis is inspiring radical imagination, determined organizing, and innovations to create a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

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

On the eve of holiday season, food for thought

As we enter the holiday season during a historic recession, only 44 percent of households with children are “very confident” they can afford needed food over the next four weeks, according to new US Census survey data. Some 10 percent, or 3.5 million households, are “not at all confident,” more evidence of the hardship inflicted on Americans by the Senate refusal to to pass a robust relief package.

Toward the end of a year of racial reckoning, USA Today asks: Is America ready to learn the truth about Thanksgiving? The newspaper explores the myths and inaccuracies in the colonist-centered narrative about the relationship between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag and the feast memorialized by the holiday.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing, and many Wampanoag hoped to make it a galvanizing event to remind the nation they still exist. Not only has Covid forced the Wampanoag to cancel observances or move them online; the pandemic has also evoked a painful sense that the sins of history live on, Time reports. The tribe, nearly obliterated by epidemic and land theft centuries ago, is still fighting to survive a deadly virus and to keep control of their land.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or the National Day of Mourning, cultural translator and racial healing practitioner Kevin John Fong offers guidance on how to stay connected to humanity during this time of loss, insecurity, and separation from those we love:

  1. Honor and share the stories of people who have died.
  2. Keep the pandemic front and center by showing up, speaking up, and acting up. Supporting small, local, and ethical businesses; demand what’s right from our lawmakers; and stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us.

The path to equitable recovery

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery calls for expanded efforts to create good jobs for all, support for essential workers and small businesses, investments to close the digital divide, and other priorities that will allow the state to continue to lead with health and resist pressure to reopen prematurely while advancing equitable economic renewal. The group’s final report presents an innovative Health Equity Metric to guide reopening and recovery decisions. It holds counties accountable for focusing on the people and places hit hardest by the pandemic. “California’s response to COVID-19 has been a model for the rest of the nation,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, a task force member and founder in residence at PolicyLink.

Support for universal basic income and government job guarantees is growing in Europe, as ideas that once were deemed as unrealistic are increasingly seen as pragmatic solutions to the pandemic’s economic morass, CNN reports. In Germany, millions of people applied to join a trial of universal basic income that will pay participants about $1,400 a month, and more than 100 lawmakers in the United Kingdom are pushing for similar pilots. As Daniel Nettle, a behavioral scientist, noted: "Big political changes generally do follow big upheaval events." 

Leadership Matters

While the coronavirus tears through the United States in the absence of federal leadership and consistent health policy and messaging,  the Cherokee Nation has managed to control Covid cases and deaths with a mask mandate in place since the spring, free drive-through testing, well-stocked hospitals, and public health officers fully supported by their chief, Stat reports. No workplace transmission has been reported, and schools are open. “It’s very impressive,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the news site. “It’s a reminder of how much leadership matters and how even under difficult circumstances, with limited resources, you can make a huge difference.” 

While death rates decline, racial gaps persist

Covid death rates have fallen sharply with earlier and better treatment, but the losses among people of color remain outrageously large, finds a Washington Post analysis of  records of 5.8 million people who tested positive for the virus from early March through mid-October. Black Americans were 37 percent more likely to die than Whites, after controlling for age, sex, and mortality rates over time. Asians were 53 percent more likely to die; Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, 26 percent; and Latinx people, 16 percent. Many issues drive the disparities, including continued testing shortages in communities of color; weak enforcement of safety protocols at essential workplaces; economic, social, and cultural factors that foster multigenerational housing and crowded conditions; and immigration crackdowns that discourage people from getting medical care.

Patients, community leaders, and health officials in Chicago say bilingual medical staff and prevention resources are in short supply and a reason why the virus has hit the Latinx population with such vengeance, the Chicago Tribune reports. A  2018 study found that roughly six in 10 Latinx adults have trouble communicating with a health-care provider due to language or cultural barriers.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is considering a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis, as a number of local governments around the country have done since the police killing of George Floyd and mass protests that followed, the Sacramento Bee reports. The declaration would acknowledge the county’s responsibility to address long-standing racial inequities.

Covid has killed 97,190 long-term care residents and staff across the country as of November 19, disproportionately in facilities that have relatively large Black and Brown populations. Now AP reports that tens of thousands more residents have died from preventable conditions, often because of neglect in ravaged facilities. Nursing home advocates say they are deluged with complaints about dehydration, festering bedsores, and other life-threatening problems. Laws and executive orders in more than two dozen states shield facilities from liability for injuries and deaths during the pandemic.

The crisis in rural America

Rural hospitals, often understaffed and financially precarious before the pandemic, are stretched to the limits as the virus rages through the South, Midwest, and Southwest, USA Today reports. The Wall Street Journal details the frantic efforts inside a hospital on the Crow reservation in Montana, where doctors and nurses are working around the clock to save the lives of family and friends. Rural counties — many of them places where residents have rejected masks and social distancing — are experiencing record-high infections and deaths. Seventeen rural hospitals have closed in 2020, among 136 to shut over the past decade, according to the National Rural Health Association.

In a reminder of how interconnected we are, the Covid surge in rural America is severely straining urban hospitals, where the sickest rural patients are transferred in growing numbers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports

More than half the nation’s prisons are in rural areas, and the pandemic has exposed the inadequate capacity of these communities to provide medical care for people behind bars or legal defense and protection, according to The Crime Report.

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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.