COVID-19 officially arrived in Colorado just over a month ago. While many of us are still trying to navigate and make sense of new realities, it’s clear that inequity is making the pandemic spread faster and that the pandemic is increasing inequity.
Those with the least access to economic, social and political resources and power are most likely to contract and die from the disease and are also most likely to lose their income or health care during shutdowns and social distancing measures.
Immigrants, already forced to make impossible decisions for their families due to federal laws and policies like Public Charge, find themselves largely boxed out of the health care system and afraid to seek services despite being one of the most at-risk populations in this pandemic.
Immigrants without documentation have high rates of uninsurance because laws and policies prevent them from accessing most coverage options and they don’t qualify for cash assistance through the recently passed federal stimulus package.
People with housing instability or those experiencing homelessness have limited ability to physically distance themselves and don’t have a safe and habitable place to quarantine or recover.
Amidst unprecedented social restrictions, accessibility issues are everywhere. People with disabilities, people who speak languages other than English, people who lack transportation, and more, are all struggling to comply with government mandates and access necessary services.
People living in poverty or with precarious employment are particularly at risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. A lack of paid sick time, child care, health insurance and other resources that are needed to navigate this pandemic are much less available to people with low incomes.
We’re seeing this play out dramatically already. In Louisiana, blacks make up 32% of the population but 70% of the COVID-19 deaths. In Michigan, blacks make up 14% of the population but 41% of the deaths.
As more and more people are pushed into poverty as a direct result of the virus — due to businesses shuttering doors, diminishing hours and layoffs — the long-term effects on health will be devastating, especially for communities of color across Colorado, even with federal assistance coming.
We can and must respond. At a federal level, Congress has made progress to support some families and businesses in need, but many individuals and families will still be left to face financial crises on their own. We also must take action — if not federally then as a state — to ensure paid health leave, universal health insurance and protection for immigrant communities through the halting of immigration enforcement activities and data sharing agreements.
Locally, we’re proud to see Colorado communities coming together to take care of each other. Organizations are scrambling to shift their operations to fill community needs. There are drive-up food pantries and virtual tip jars for service workers.
There are rapidly-growing pools of funds to support health care and social services. Evictions, utility cut-offs and library fines are being suspended in favor of childcare support, supply deliveries for people who are quarantined and checking in on our elderly neighbors. There’s still more we can do.
As is the case with any natural or human-made disaster, those who our laws and policies have always failed are hurt first and worst. Immigrants, Native Americans, women of color, the disability community and other groups have led the fight for many of the civil rights and basic protections we have in place now.
Those most impacted continue to lead the efforts to pass policies we know could have prevented much of the hardship Coloradans are feeling today.
Those in power have protected themselves and their families with paid leave, health insurance, legal documentation, union support and other benefits, at the expense of the people and workers who keep our economy moving, leaving many of our “essential” workers vulnerable to hunger, poverty, disease, and homelessness — again.
You are at-risk of dying from COVID-19; we all are. But the risks go beyond the disease and are very inequitably distributed.
Times like this — as unprecedented as it is — test the resiliency and spirit of our communities. In addition to washing your hands and staying home (if you’re in a position to do so), please join me in calling on our federal and state leaders to use every tool at their disposal to stop the freefall of our economy and health. Unprecedented crises require radical action, and our communities cannot wait.
Joe Sammen is the executive eirector of Center for Health Progress, which works for laws and policies that make it possible for every Coloradan to take care of themselves and their families.