Race Forward Statement on the Coronavirus Emergency, Official Response and Its Impacts on Communities of Color

As the coronavirus spreads and a public health emergency intensifies, Race Forward calls on local and state governments and those who are doing emergency planning to pay special attention to the impact that this disease and the response to its spread may have on people and communities of color.

We call for an approach that provides accurate information and advances practices and policies based in science, and that ensures compassionate and comprehensive medical and social services for those most vulnerable to exposure. We are all only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk.

While we know that anyone can contract the virus, we also know that the impacts on communities of color could be severe. People of color are disproportionately likely to be in low-paying or hourly-wage jobs that make them unable to provide care or interrupt work. They are also more likely to have limited access to affordable healthcare, childcare, and transportation. People of color are more likely to face unsanitary conditions inside prisons, jails, and detention centers. Funding disparities in communities of color have led to hospital closures; shortages of frontline doctors and nurses; higher incidences of chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease; housing overcrowding; and lack of quality elder care.

Implicit and explicit racism has often historically driven government responses to urgent health situations. Demagogues have exploited fear, fostering secondary outbreaks of xenophobia and division. The Trump administration has used this crisis to stem travel from unaffected regions, including halting asylum seekers at the Southern border. Hate-filled and racist rhetoric has stigmatized people of color as “infected,” threats to public safety, and burdens to the health care system. This public emergency has already impacted Chinese and Asian Americans in increased acts of bigotry and discrimination. 

Emergency planning that does not factor in health inequities and that trades on racialized fears may exacerbate infection rates, through the misallocation of time and resources, and create a cascading set of additional problems to solve. Fear makes for poor science and worse policy. We strongly urge all health emergency managers to actively dispel myths and racist misinformation, to collectively work to create a system-wide response needed to end the spread of this communicable disease, and to address the needs of marginalized populations while stamping out stigma and blame. All of our health security is at stake.