Covid, Race, and the Revolution

Leaders of color mobilize for vaccine equity, cities unite to reimagine public safety, guaranteed income in a tattered economy, and more, in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 39. February 10, 2021

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 to create a nation in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

Leaders of color mobilize vaccine campaigns

 Tribal health officials in Alaska have mobilized a massive campaign that’s delivering thousands of doses of Covid-19 vaccine to remote villages, using chartered planes, water taxis, snow mobiles, and dog sleds, Alaska Public Media reports. State Sen. Donny Olson, a 67-year-old Iñupiaq pilot and father of six living in the western village of Golovin, listened to air traffic on his radio so he could track the approach of the planes. “You could breathe a little easier that they’re here,” he said before getting vaccinated at the village clinic. Fifteen percent of Alaskans have received at least one shot, making this large and mostly roadless state No. 1 in the nation for Covid vaccinations per capita, Bloomberg CityLab reports.

Black clergy are organizing churches in a campaign to increase vaccination in Black communities, Rev. Terrance M. McKinley writes in Sojourners. The Conference of National Baptist Churches is working with pastors to set up vaccination centers at churches. McKinley calls upon religious leaders to use their platforms to encourage vaccination, combat disinformation, and support their congregations to remain spiritually and mentally healthy and whole through the Covid crisis.

Sixty Black members of the National Academy of Medicine, the nation’s most prestigious organization of health-science researchers, have appealed to all Black Americans to get vaccinated. “Disinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines has pervaded social media, feeding on long-held and absolutely warranted distrust of health institutions in Black communities,” two members of the group write in a New York Times op-ed. “The lies are an assault on our people, and it threatens to destroy us.”

Thirty-four bus stops to the nearest vaccine center

But access to vaccines remains problematic. Distribution plans centered largely on cars and increasingly relying on mega-sites such as stadiums pose huge barriers for low-income people, seniors, the homebound, and people with disabilities — especially as public transportation systems are suffering billion-dollar cuts, The Guardian reports. In Belle Glade, Florida, a rural, predominantly African American community, residents without a car must take a bus that runs once an hour, transfer, and pass 34 stops to reach the nearest vaccination site, in an upscale supermarket.

An NPR analysis finds that vaccine sites in cities across the South are heavily concentrated in predominantly White neighborhoods. By relying  on existing medical infrastructure, health officials are perpetuating inequities rooted in racism. The increasing reliance on mega-sites such as stadiums will speed up the pace of vaccination, but it may make access even more difficult for the people who need it most.

“Asking the people in our communities to go to mega-center sites to get vaccinated is like saying you come to us for the water to douse out the fire when the fair thing to do is take the water to the fire,” Dr. Don Garcia, medical director of Clínica Monseñor Romero, told the Los Angeles Times. The community health center, which serves 12,000 patients, predominantly Spanish-speaking Latinx and Indigenous people, finally received its first vaccine shipment last week. It was enough for just 100 shots.

Structural inequities can undermine even well-intentioned policies to target underserved groups.  In Washington State, advocates for immigrants and refugees successfully persuaded the Department of Health to include on the vaccine priority list people over age 50 in multigenerational homes who can’t live independently or are caring for a grandchild. Yet lack of transportation and technology, coupled with  language barriers, continue to keep this group of elders from getting shots, the Seattle Times reports.

Adding to the vaccine access problems is the dismal state of the federal program to help low-income people obtain smartphones, according to the Washington Post. Lifeline was supposed to be a digital safety net but years of bad service and government neglect mean that only one in four of the more than 33 million eligible US households use the service.

The Biden administration announced its first step Tuesday to close the racial gaps in vaccination. It will ship one million doses, a modest allocation, directly to a network of federally funded clinics in underserved areas, the New York Times reports. The administration has collected race and ethnicity data on only 52 percent of vaccine recipients, and is struggling to gather the complete data it needs to make sure distribution is equitable.

More than 125 LGBTQ organizations have urged the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers to create an inclusive, coordinated plan to incorporate LGBTQ people into distribution plans for the Covid vaccine and collect LGBTQ-related data on infections and deaths, MetroWeekly reports. LGBTQ people are more likely to work in industries that put them at higher risk of coronavirus exposure.

Cities unite to reimagine public safety

The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May sparked a nationwide uprising for racial justice. Now, 21 cities have formed the National Offices of Violence Prevention Network to reimagine public safety and make meaningful investments in community-driven violence prevention and intervention strategies that strengthen neighborhoods. In addition to local governments, the network includes the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, Advance Peace, and the Center for American Progress.

Police in Minneapolis obtained a warrant ordering Google to turn over account data on everyone “within the geographical region” of a store that was burned during the protests, TechCrunch reports. These “geofence warrants” allow police to cast a wide digital dragnet over a scene and gather information on peaceful protesters and passers-by.

Guaranteed income in a tattered economy

In St. Paul, Minnesota, 150 families who welcomed newborns in 2020 and suffered economic blows from the pandemic are participating in the nation’s first guaranteed income initiative targeting families with babies, the Star Tribune reports. The city used its new infant college savings account program, CollegeBound St. Paul, to recruit families for the 18-month income pilot. Forty percent of participants are Black, 25 percent are Asian, 13 percent are Latinx, and 2 percent are Native American.

The pandemic forced 275,000 more women out of the US labor force in January, 80 percent of all adults who left jobs or stopped looking for them last month, Fortune writes. More than 2.3 million women have left the labor force since February 2020, compared with 1.8 million men.

Given the bleak job outlook, employers will have their pick of new college graduates eager for work experience even if they don’t get paid — and unpaid internships may replace many entry-level jobs, The New Republic reports. Advocates have fought for years for laws requiring compensation for interns to expand opportunities, promote greater diversity, and end the exploitation of young people. But employers will likely be able to dodge these demands during the pandemic and face no legislative intervention. 

Sociologist Jamie McCallum explores a provocative question about work in America, in an Aeon essay: Jobs have become relentless, underpaid toil for millions of people, so why does the idea of the “work ethic” command such reverence in our national narrative — and why is it weaponized against certain groups, youth especially? “The work ethic is a tent-pole of national identity politics,” he writes. The phrase is widely used to give the false impression that we are a nation under attack by those who slough off their responsibility to work.  In one national poll, 72 percent of respondents said the US “isn’t as great as it once was” and more people thought our “lagging work ethic” was a bigger threat than economic inequality or global competition.

Climate change and Covid

From the start of the pandemic, scientists and environmental justice organizers have tried to understand whether climate change helped SARS CoV-2, the Covid-causing coronavirus, to emerge and spread in humans. Now, British scientists have issued a qualified yes, CBS News reports. Their research shows that increases in temperature, sunlight, and other human-caused climate changes have altered forests in ways that have brought many species of coronavirus-bearing bats into new regions, including the area of China where Covid is believed to have originated.  

Philanthropists have poured money into fighting climate change in recent years but very little funding goes directly to communities of color, though they are hit first and worst. Now, the Donors of Color Network, a group pushing for racial equity in environmental funding, has challenged the nation’s top climate funders to shift 30 percent of their donations to efforts led by Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people, the Associated Press reports. “We felt it was really important for people to set a baseline of what racial equity should look like when it lands in a budget,” Ashindi Maxton, co-founder of the network, told the news service. “It should show that you are investing in the communities that are most impacted by the climate crisis.”

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.