United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison
Has the Coronavirus Gone Away?
"Black Americans are bearing the brunt of three crises — police violence, crushing unemployment and the deadliest infectious disease threat in a century — that have laid bare longstanding injustice."
- Emily Kask in The New York Times
Civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died under the knee of a Minnesota police officer last month, quickly replaced COVID-19 as the lead news story. It also left people wondering if it is more important to decry the inhumane treatment and killing of Black and Brown persons at the hands of white police than to practice social distancing knowing that COVID-19 is a high risk.
One protester put it this way, “I’m just as likely to die from a cop as I am from COVID.” Is the pandemic of racism greater than the pandemic of COVID-19?
According to John Hopkins University Statistics, as of June 6 deaths from COVID-19 have surpassed 110,000 in the United States. While many public health experts are supportive of the protests, they also recognize and are very concerned that protests all over the country will give rise to new cases of COVID-19.
According to a public health researcher at Harvard, we may witness spikes in cases in 10-14 days. The virus seems to spread the most when people sing or yell (such as to chant a slogan), sneeze (to expel pepper spray) or cough (after inhaling tear gas). It is transmitted most efficiently in crowds and large gatherings, and just a few contagious people can infect hundreds around them.
When you join a protest, please wear a mask over your mouth and nose, use hand sanitizer and don't touch your face with unwashed hands to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus and to reduce risks of the virus being transmitted to you.
He added that the only thing public health officials can do is to keep warning people to be careful, while urging them to wear a face mask and always keep it on.
Another real concern is that protesting in a pandemic has led to some testing sites suspending operations, which has hampered efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus as mass gatherings may attract potentially contagious people who don't know they're infected.
Some news commentators have accused public health experts of hypocrisy around the protests for endorsing and supporting them on the one hand and, on the other hand, continuing to sound the alarm of COVID-19 and the need to practice social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing to prevent the spread of the virus.
But I, like many other public health professionals, understand that racism, discrimination and violence are social determinants of health (physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual) that contribute to racial and ethnic disparities that may and very often do interfere with opportunities to attain one’s highest quality of life. We understand that racism, intentional or unintentional, is a driving force of the social determinants of health and thus is a barrier to health equity.
We understand people are going out into the streets because they feel their lives depend on it. Because one in every 1,000 Black men could die at the hands of police. Because they fear an officer of the state will kill them for something petty. They are going out because of the systemic reasons COVID-19 has harmed Black people in higher numbers, and because Black people are more likely to suffer the worst course of illness.They are going out because centuries of systemic racism, lifetimes of discrimination and years of watching Black people die needlessly drive those fears.
“The crisis of racism and inequality are now converging with the crisis of COVID-19," says Dr. Leana S. Wen, Baltimore’s former health commissioner.
Black Americans are bearing the brunt of these interrelated crises - police violence, crushing unemployment and the deadliest infectious disease threat in a century.
Public health experts, activists and lawmakers say the triple threat requires a coordinated response.
According to Representative Barbara Lee (D-California), Black Americans are suffering “a pandemic within a pandemic.” She introduced legislation last week calling for the creation of a “truth, racial healing and transformation commission” to examine the legacy of slavery and systemic racism.
No, COVID-19 has not gone away, but it has exposed the longstanding Pandemic of Racism that still exists. And we are witnessing the implications of public health associated with civil unrest.