Trend Bending Policies for Advancing Racial Justice Part 2: Addressing COVID-19 Inequities

Trend Bending Policies for Advancing Racial Justice is a three-part series developed by Well-being and Equity in the World (WE in the World), and brought to you in partnership with the Well Being In the Nation Network (WIN Network). The series lifts up policies that Black, Brown and Indigenous-led organizations are fighting for in pursuit of racial justice.

When COVID-19 cases first began rising in the United States, many thought of the oncoming pandemic as a storm that would affect us all. In reality, while we all faced the COVID storm in 2020, we did so in dramatically different boats, as all of us are floating in a sea of structural racism and economic inequality. The pandemic has devastated low-wealth communities and communities of color, while many with financial resources have been able to keep safe by working from home and ordering groceries. 

A range of factors, including an economy where people of color are more likely to have low wage, high exposure jobs have contributed to these inequities. At every stage, from the risk of exposure, to access to testing, to the availability of medical treatment, people of color and especially Black Americans have worse outcomes. In 2020, people of color were being hospitalized for COVID at rates between 4.5 and 5.5 times higher than whites, and Black patients were 1.5 times more likely to die of COVID than white patients. COVID also intersected with mass incarceration, where in Texas, for example, 80% of the incarcerated people who died of COVID by November of 2020 had not been convicted of a crime. These inequities persisted as the pandemic progressed. Though only 13% of the population, Black people made up 26% of the total years of life lost due to COVID-19 in America.

The devastation of COVID-19 cannot be overstated, but communities have risen to the challenge to support the most vulnerable in a time where federal and state governments have largely failed to do so. Across the country, a network of mutual aid groups has risen, with neighbors providing food, services and directly redistributing money to those that need it. As communities and organizers continue the fight to protect their communities in the ongoing pandemic, local governments, businesses, schools, hospitals and other institutions can support them by implementing racially just COVID responses like the ones listed below.

Decarceration-Based Solutions

  • Immediately releasing as many incarcerated individuals as possible, beginning with the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those awaiting trial.

  • Halt immigration enforcement and release individuals and families from ICE detention

  • Halting enforcement of all non-violent offenses.

Vital Condition-Based Solutions

  • Freeze rent and mortgages payments and implement a moratorium on evictions and utility shut-offs. 

  • Use empty hotels to house homeless people and invest in Housing First programs and Domestic Violence shelters. 

  • Remove all restrictions from social benefits and unemployment programs and allow formerly-incarcerated people to receive benefits.

Economic Solutions

  • Provide hazard pay for all front line workers and bailout small businesses to prevent workers from working in unsafe conditions.

  • Implement paid leave for all workers and provide all Americans with Universal Basic Income.

  • Cancel student debt and other forms of debt, fund COVID relief programs with a tax on extreme wealth. 

    Healthcare Solutions

    • Waive all costs for COVID treatment provide free, regular testing for all.

    • Use military funding to increase investments in Community Health Centers in Black Communities.

    • Pass Medicare for All to ensure that all Americans have access to proper healthcare treatment.

    Explore resources related to addressing COVID-19 inequities below and visit the next part of the series to learn about policies for dismantling structural racism as a whole. 

    Written by Noah Kline, former Social Transformation Intern with WE in the World.

    Last Updated 2024


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