Posted on April 17, 2020

Public Health Expert: ‘Marshall Plan’ Needed to Redress Coronavirus Race Disparities

Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times, April 16, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has turned a light on long accepted inequities like the segregation that has created pockets of poverty and violence on Chicago’s South and West sides, requiring nothing short of a “Marshall Plan” to redress them, according to a leading public health expert.

“Many Americans are shocked by the data emerging from multiple cities showing the disproportionate over-representation of African Americans — and in some cities Latinos as well — in terms of COVID-19 mortality,” lauded social scientist David R. Williams, of Harvard University, said Wednesday in a teleconference by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the country’s largest public health philanthropy.

“The striking disparities we are seeing are not the fault of individuals, families and communities that are experiencing them. Instead, they reflect longstanding policies that have created pervasive social and economic inequalities in the United States,” Williams continued, as the U.S. notched 637,716 coronavirus cases; 30,826 deaths.

“The coronavirus is a call to action. It gives us a chance to make a commitment to do better than we have done in the past. Call it a ‘Marshall Plan’ for disadvantaged communities.”


By Wednesday, Illinois had 24,593 cases, and 948 deaths. While only 15% of the population African Americans represented 42.8% of those deaths; in Chicago, they represented 62.2% of the 386 deaths, though they are only a third of the population.


“Minority workers are over-represented among essential workers in transit, in service, in grocery stores, in maintenance and so forth. Lower levels of socioeconomic status mean Blacks and other minorities are more likely to continue to work outside the home when shelter-in-place directives are given. And in poor neighborhoods, social distancing is not a viable option when residing in high-density, often multi-generational housing units.”

The Centers for Disease Control’s early demographic snapshot found African Americans — 13% of the U.S. population — represented 33% of COVID-19 hospitalizations. In several states, they are dying from the virus at a rate more than twice their population.

“Racial inequities actually exist not only for COVID-19, but for almost every disease. And we know access to testing and treatment is a problem,” Williams said. {snip}


So addressing racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths ultimately means eradicating the segregation, disinvestment and economic stagnation that have left communities of color vulnerable to the pandemic, he said.