By: Leia Ku Cheng Yee, Communications and Development Intern

As we enter the month of March, we mark one year of wrestling with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In regards to the impacts of the pandemic, it comes to no surprise, that the minority, impoverished groups are the most negatively affected. One good thing that came out from the pandemic is that it has spotlighted the societal issue of the disproportionate amount of low-income population that live in contaminated areas. It has made these communities more visible than before. These low-income, racial-minority communities are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and have higher risk of death due to the decades of unjust and inequity in the system. The people still need to be more educated on this issue and raise awareness to the public. One year has gone by, and not much has changed. 

In 2020, the inequity in the country has been amplified through the Black Lives Matter Movement, but we still lack environmental regulations in the country to target environmental justice issues. I am sure that we are all aware that the virus does not discriminate, so why are certain communities struggling more than others? This is mainly caused by the lack of strong political voices in these communities, in comparison to a white, high-income community that has more economic power. Moreover, coal plants, landfills, injection wells, and other toxic waste sites have existed in communities of colors for decades, and have been emitting toxic pollutants to the air and water of these communities for years.

A new Harvard study found a significant overlap between COVID-19 fatalities and other conditions related to long-term air pollution exposure, showing that those who have lived in places with significant air pollution (cities) are 15% more likely to die from COVID-19 than those with the same health profile who live in less polluted areas. Through inhaling toxic chemicals in the air, these communities are more prone to cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, chronic health issues that increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first breakdown of COVID-19 case data by race, showing that 30% of patients whose race was known were black. Communities of color have long fought for environmental justice issues through addressing the unjust in the system, but they lack political and economic power to prevent incoming toxic exposure, or eradicate existing pollution. 

To address the disparities in COVID-19, we have to first address our structural inequalities in this country. The high-income communities have easier access to professional health care, priority access for testing kits as well as vaccines, and have the luxury to enjoy staying at home. On the other hand, low-income communities struggle to put food on their table, and are risking their lives everyday just living in the contaminated neighborhoods, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our country needs to invest more in public health preparedness, so that these vulnerable communities are prepared when encountering disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo Credit: Bebeto Matthews