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Coronavirus in Milwaukee: The Racial Aspect

With paranoia and unease spread all over the world due to the global pandemic emergency, you’d wonder if things could get any worse. Unfortunately, they can.

We’ve come across news after news of police brutality against Black people and people of color (POC), and while the news is always equally shocking, many are no longer surprised. The question is consistently the same: why is this happening?

Health officials are not wrong, and the narrative provided to the public is, for the most part, accurate. The coronavirus does not discriminate, given that all else is equal. Everyone has an equal chance of getting infected, and the virus will attack their respiratory systems in the same way as it would anyone else. Why then, is it that the first eight people to pass away in Milwaukee County due to COVID-19 were African American?

The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the most segregated in the US, and the fact that the first eight victims of COVID-19 were Black can’t just be happenstance.

From recent Census statistics, you would find that about 27% of the population in Milwaukee County is African American. Most Black people in the city testing positive for the coronavirus would make sense, considering the heavy segregation in the city. The virus is spreading rapidly through the Black community, but unfortunately, the community is not getting the attention it needs.

The city is already ranked as one of the worst for Black people in terms of many things – income, employment, education, and incarceration. Black folks in Milwaukee don’t have access to adequate healthcare, and this will impact them gravely during this pandemic.

By Friday, March 27, 2020, there were eight deaths due to the coronavirus in Milwaukee County, and all eight of these were of Black people. A majority of the COVID-19 cases in the area – more than 50% – were centered in Black communities, despite African Americans making up only a small portion of the population. From this, it is evident that we have a crisis disproportionately affecting a minority.

The problem is not limited to a lack of information and resources, though this may certainly be a contributing factor. Many people remain uninformed or poorly informed about the crisis and may not be taking all the precautionary measures. However, this is not all. On March 25, a 69-year-old Black man died within 24 hours of being admitted to the hospital due to fever and cough; this man had tested positive for COVID-19. One day later, on March 26, a 65-year-old Black woman passed away five days after being admitted to the hospital for fever, and she too had tested positive for COVID-19.

It remains uncertain whether this is because of poor healthcare being provided to the Black community, or because these cases were untreatable by the time they were discovered. However, what isn’t uncertain is that a large number of people suffering from the virus are Black. According to a report, many people who tested positive had, in fact, not been abroad, so the spread within the community was not a result of large-scale travel, but because of close contact. The government failed to communicate the importance of social distancing, and the subsequent lack of information is a major factor contributing to the problems faced by the African American community during this crisis.

Over time, other POC communities around the country are showing similar results, and lawmakers are calling out the lack of racial demographic data available on COVID-19 cases. Any attempt to contain the virus in the US should involve efforts to contain its spread in low-income communities, and, most importantly, efforts to protect the lives of those within these communities.

The lack of proper information and treatment available to these communities is not just due to their low-income status and inability to afford the massive healthcare charges; it’s also due to the systemic racism that still prevails in the country, and it’s starting to show its true face during this pandemic. With half the cases in Wisconsin affecting Black people and half of the cases of Wisconsin occurring in Milwaukee, it is reasonable to assume that all else does not happen to be equal when race comes into play.

The disparities between white people and people of color when it comes to chronic health conditions and access to healthcare facilities has been pointed out, and so has been the low likelihood of being Black or POC and having insurance. In addition to this, the discrimination and marginalization they have faced in the past have left many people of color feeling distrustful and suspicious of the medical system. Past discrimination makes them less likely to seek out healthcare on time, and this increases the risk of infection and spread greater by many folds.

Tony Evers of the Wisconsin government said, “The severity of this disease in the African American community is a crisis within a crisis.”

Having no proper healthcare, no resource for accurate information on prevention, and timely medical care, it is no surprise that Black communities would suffer more than their white counterparts.

Many would argue that this is not a direct act of racism since, so far, there are no reports of any Black person being openly denied healthcare for being Black. Still, we cannot ignore the discrimination that is embedded in the system itself, now manifesting into a greater threat during this crisis. The collective years of having faced troubles for being Black are now starting to show how detrimental they can be for POC communities.

The virus does not discriminate, but the people responsible for preventing it do.

At the end of the day, Black communities are suffering, and not much is being done about it. Only time will tell whether the community would be able to weather this storm and stay safe.


Angela S Kennedy

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