The nation surpassed 600,000 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday (June 15) as the nation continues the push to reopen after a year-long shut down. The death toll continues to expose racial gaps and inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on Black Americans and other people of color.
President Joe Biden addressed the then-approaching milestone on Monday (June 14) on his trip to Europe stating that vaccination efforts and decrease in COVID-19 deaths is not enough “to let our guard down.” “There’s still too many lives being lost,” he said.
At the start of the pandemic, Black people were losing their lives to COVID-19 at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the country. Infections in Texas and Florida, The Huffington Post reported, caused the nation’s summer second surge to hit Hispanic people hardest. Over the winter, the nation’s most deadly surge to date, death rates along racial lines narrowed to nearly-equal amounts. The CDC estimates that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people are two to three times more likely than white Americans to die from COVID-19 infections.
Currently, even as millions get vaccinated against the virus, Black people are again dying at higher rates than other groups. An analysis by The Associated Press found that Black people account for 15% of all COVID-19 deaths where race is known, compared to 19% of Hispanic Americans, and 61% of white people in the US. Those rates are somewhat comparable to the nation's population breakdown, however, when adjusting for age, the impact of COVID-19 reveals a troubling reality.
On average, Black and Hispanic people are younger than white people in the US, yet the virus, which overwhelmed elderly populations, killed more younger people in marginalized racial groups. Thirty percent of Black people who died from COVID-19 were under the age of 65. That rate was 37% among Hispanics and 12% of white Americans.
Researchers attribute the higher death tolls to systemic lack of access to healthcare, the type of jobs many Black and Hispanic people hold, and living in multigenerational households, among other factors. Experts say the death toll on marginalized communities sends a clear message to the nation –– “don’t return to normal.”
“If we want to respect the dear price that 600,000 people have paid, don’t return to normal. Return to something that is better than what was,” Dr. Clyde Yancy, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Northwestern University medical school, told The AP.
“It will be an epic fail if we simply go back to whatever we call normal,” he added.
Churches, barbershops, and Black healthcare professionals are all working to get more Black Americans vaccinated in an effort to provide more protection to our vulnerable community. Still, addressing barriers to adequate, culturally-responsive healthcare, housing, and other determinants of health remain crucial in the country’s plan to reopen.