COVID-19 and Communities of Color

Due to the racial and economic inequities embedded in our country’s systems, the effects of COVID-19 could be compounded for communities of color as well as other marginalized populations. In addition to people of color (POCs), people who are over sixty years old, people with disabilities, people who are immunocompromised, and people who are incarcerated are among those who have a higher risk of exposure and related challenges.

Of the many socioeconomic impacts that communities of color are experiencing in the face of COVID-19, I’ll discuss five of these impacts and share my thoughts as a mental health counselor:

Increased racism and stigmatization, especially toward Asian and Asian American populations

As COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, Asian Americans have been scapegoated for the disease — regardless of whether they are Chinese or not. Koreans, Indonesians, Thai, and other East Asian populations have been homogenized and targeted by Americans with bigoted views. Faced with increased racism, Asian Americans have been dealing not only with the virus itself, but also verbal and physical violence. The choice to wear a mask or not is questioned among friends and relatives as the benefit of wearing one for protection may not outweigh the unwanted attention it would bring.

It seems as though humans attempt to cope with a loss of control by scapegoating minority groups to rationalize what they cannot explain. Generally speaking, I’ve seen people wrongly ascribe blame as a means to rationalize their struggles with the unknown. As humans we try to make sense of the world and, in doing so, can lose sight of ourselves.

Added risk of exposure in immigrant populations

Within communities of color, many immigrants face the risk of added exposure to the coronavirus. Their vulnerability to exposure is largely based upon fear that our current administration has instilled in immigrant communities. Immigrants may avoid seeking healthcare in fear of hurting their chances of becoming a legal permanent resident. Or, undocumented immigrants may avoid going to the hospital in fear of becoming vulnerable to deportation. The need to seek medical treatment when one develops symptoms of COVID-19 may be outweighed by the risk of losing one’s job and falling into financial insecurity — or worse.

In a time where many are seeking medical care and self-isolating to slow the spread of the disease, immigrants may be among the least able to do so. Socioeconomic disparities experienced by many immigrants contribute to our government’s inefficient public health efforts. These inequities experienced by immigrants existed long before COVID-19; they have simply been magnified in light of an issue that affects us all.

Food and/or housing insecurities in the face of school and work closures

As institutions swiftly respond to COVID-19, many have asked college students to move out of their dorms and begin online learning as an alternative, or are closing entirely. While this is an understandable measure to mitigate the spread of the disease, it has left many first-generation students, often students of color from low-income backgrounds, with difficult decisions to make. Many of these students may not have stables homes to return to, may experience transportation issues or food insecurity, or may struggle without income from campus or local employment.

Similarly, COVID-19 school closures have resulted in uncertainty for K-12 students who usually depend on school-provided breakfast and lunch for guaranteed meals. Financially unstable parents now have the added challenge to provide for their children in the face of job losses and pay-cuts due to the economic crash caused by COVID-19. Additionally, students from disadvantaged communities may struggle to maintain their academic pace due to a lack of access to technology and alternative learning methods.

Increase of mental health issues that go untreated due to stigma and lack of resources

As a therapist I’ve seen a spike in mental health issues in light of COVID-19. Anxiety, depression, and OCD are among the mental illnesses that have been triggered by this crisis. Continuing to engage in treatment has been challenging for some due to social distancing and a collective sense of anxiety. Additionally, POCs are significantly less likely to engage in mental health treatment and receive adequate resources for various reasons.

Logistical barriers such as transportation, childcare, or taking time off from work decrease the accessibility to treatment. POCs are also less likely to seek treatment due to stigma surrounding mental illness as it’s often viewed as a “weakness” or “moral flaw” in communities of color. A culturally homogenous mental healthcare system also deters POCs from seeking care due to a lack of cultural sensitivity and understanding. Racism, bias, and discrimination against POCs in treatment settings throughout history have bred mistrust in communities of color, discouraging them from seeking medical care. Language barriers and lack of health insurance are also impediments that perpetuate this healthcare disparity in communities of color

Lack of accessibility to testing kits

Healthcare disparities have contributed to a lack of COVID-19 testing in communities of color due to barriers pertaining to cost, adequate healthcare facilities, and access. POCs are typically unable to afford and access healthcare for various reasons. For example they may be more likely to have jobs that don’t provide health insurance, or they may be unable to afford copays or other costs. Additionally, logistical barriers, such as as transportation or taking time off from work for medical appointments, can pose challenges for accessibility. Generally, healthcare facilities within communities of colors are often less efficient and less equipped than those in affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods. The lack of accessibility to testing kits in communities of color highlight how the effects of COVID-19 could be compounded for large segments of our population.

Conclusion

These 5 impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color are only 5 of many that continue to take their toll as this pandemic unfolds. COVID-19 has proliferated due to social fissures formed by inequities. These inequities, created and sustained by centuries of structural racism and discrimination, make large groups in our society susceptible to a disease that impacts all, spurring socioeconomic impacts on a global scale.

At the top of Mount Monadnock, the highest point in New Hampshire, Spring 2019

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