Briefing for November 23, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for November 23, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

We are struck that one of the few certainties about the coronavirus outbreak is that low-income communities and workers in low-income, service sector occupations will be disproportionately impacted. Likely in devastating fashion.

One step in combatting this will be to share information about what is happening and what can be done.  That’s why we are offering this daily news service summarizing relevant stories, and a concise weekly summary alternative as well.  You can see it below.

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Briefing for November 23, 2020

This will be our only briefing of this holiday week, but we’ll be returning next Monday, Nov. 30. Wishing you and yours a safe and healthy Thanksgiving.

Racial, ethnic minorities reel from higher COVID-19 death rates: Nearly nine months after the virus exploded in the United States, and amid big treatment strides, the disease continues to ravage African American and other minority communities with a particular vengeance. Black, Asian, Native American and Hispanic patients still die far more frequently than White patients, even as death rates have plummeted for all races and age groups, according to a Washington Post analysis of records from 5.8 million people who tested positive for the virus from early March through mid-October. Death rates overall have fallen more than 80 percent from the pandemic’s peak in the spring, when refrigerator trucks were parked outside New York City hospitals and ice rinks were converted into morgues, according to an analysis of anonymized data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But as another wave of infections sweeps across the country this fall, losses among racial and ethnic minorities remain disproportionately large. 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 more likely to die; Hispanics, 16 percent more likely to die. Those higher case fatality rates for diagnosed people of color are on top of the increased infection rates for those unable to isolate at home because they are essential workers

The devastating coronavirus toll in El Paso illustrates the pandemic’s stark inequalities: The coronavirus is devastating the city, its alarming spread a sign of the outbreak’s inequitable impact on Texans. In the nine months that the virus has been confirmed to be in the state, it has ravaged communities of color. Hispanic Texans make up about 40% of the state’s population and accounted for 55% of its known COVID-19 fatalities as of Nov. 13. El Paso County, which is 82% Hispanic, has reported over 16,000 new cases in the last two weeks — thousands more than the numbers reported for the much larger counties home to Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth. Across the county, more than 900 residents have died of COVID since the pandemic began, placing El Paso far ahead of the state’s other major urban counties in deaths per 1,000 residents. 

How COVID-19 has been curtailed in Cherokee Nation: While the United States flounders in its response to the coronavirus, another nation — one within our own borders — is faring much better. With a mask mandate in place since spring, free drive-through testing, hospitals well-stocked with PPE, and a small army of public health officers fully supported by their chief, the Cherokee Nation has been able to curtail its COVID-19 case and death rates even as those numbers surge in surrounding Oklahoma, where the White House coronavirus task force says spread is unyielding. Elsewhere in the U.S., tribal areas have been hit hard by the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that American Indian and Alaskan Native populations have case rates 3.5 times higher than that of white individuals. The Navajo Nation, where COVID testing, PPE, and sometimes even running water are in short supply, has seen nearly 13,000 cases and 602 deaths among its roughly 170,000 citizens. The Cherokee Nation, with about 140,000 citizens on its reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, has reported just over 4,000 cases and 33 deaths. 

Economy heads toward COVID cliff with multiple aid programs set to expire: A slew of expiring emergency programs are setting up an economic “COVID cliff” come 2021, which could see millions of people lose unemployment insurance and get evictions, while a growing wave of small businesses close shop. March’s CARES Act set up myriad programs to give people economic relief in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which are set to expire on Dec. 31. Unless a divided Congress can reach a deal to extend the programs, the country’s economic suffering could skyrocket. It’s a lot of risk to be putting on the economy at a time when so many other pressures are already underway,” said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

Food bank operators plead for federal help ahead of Thanksgiving: With Thanksgiving coming in just a few days, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is forcing some Americans to go to food banks for the first time. At a food drive in DeKalb County, Georgia this weekend, people lined up at 5:30 a.m. ET for an event that was not supposed to start until 10 a.m., CNN’s Natasha Chen reported. And as expanded unemployment benefits are set to expire in the next few weeks, food drive volunteers and local officials are urging the US government to act. “I’m pleading to our leaders in Washington — Republicans and Democrats — to really look around and see and understand the amount of pain and distress that is spreading across this nation,” DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said in an interview with Chen at the food drive. “And I’m pleading with them to come together to either extend the deadline for these funds or to send out a second stimulus package that will help families who are in need, begging them to rise above the discord and the rancor and do what’s right for the people of this nation.” 

Toxic chemical exposure could limit vaccine effectiveness in hard-hit communities: Exposure to toxic “forever” chemicals could hinder the effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine, with outsize implications for some communities and workers. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — a family of thousands of toxic chemicals found in an array of everyday household items — have been shown to weaken immune systems. They have also been linked to decreased antibody production in people given certain vaccines. Environmental and public health groups worry that could haveimplications for recipients of a long-awaited coronavirus vaccine, particularly for some people of color and essential workers. “The effects of PFAS on the immune system are pretty well established at this point,” said Anita Desikan, a research analyst with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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