Here we are, four months since writing my first column on the intersection of race and the pandemic through a local lens. I reread my first two columns and my heart sank upon realizing how little things have changed. In fact, I’d argue that conditions have worsened, especially for Washington state’s Latinx community.
One metric to observe is in how infection rates have proliferated, as recorded in Public Health Data. Per the first round of metrics that were published in March, infection rates in King County for the Latinx population were at 17.1 percent (Latinx population is 10 percent countywide), while the rate in Washington was 26 percent (population is 13 percent statewide). Rates were disproportionately high per population percentage and illustrated the institutional impediments faced in accessing proper care.
Fast forward to mid-summer and the numbers describe yet another story. As of statistics posted July 13 by Seattle & King County Public Health and the Washington State Department of Health, the rates of infection for the same demographic increased in King County to 27.1 percent (an increase of 10 percent since March), while the number swelled to 44 percent in Washington (increase of 18 percent). Bear in mind, we are one of the states that has been proactive in the attempt to curtail the spread of covid-19.
Truth told, in mid-March I did not think that we would reach 50,000 deaths, let alone the 140,000 that we are nearing. Statistical inquiry not only points to utter failure in national coordination and response, but also lays open a very real fact about how classism and institutional racism play out in the middle of emergencies. An infrastructure designed to marginalize people on the social and economic margins in turn places them in a more vulnerable position when disaster hits. In Washington, this is seen with the state’s largest non-white group, Latinx residents.
The disproportionate toll to the Latinx community in Seattle, King County and Washington is one that also goes beyond infection, hospitalization and death rates. It includes economic insecurity, institutional negligence in providing safeguards for essential workers (e.g., farm work, canneries, meat plants) as well as the sting of having lost friends and family to a pandemic that records higher numbers day after day. On top of material impact, we can also expect an increase in toxic stress, anxiety, somatic symptoms and PTSD for community members directly impacted, as well as frontline workers who bear the brunt of this difficult work.
Make no mistake: The residual effect will last a long time. Likewise, the pandemic adds yet another layer to racial trauma, which already carries a simultaneous psychological and physiological impact that lasts a lifetime. Moving forward, we must address both these questions in tandem. The community’s future well-being depends on it.
Read more in the July 22-28, 2020 issue.