Posted on June 19, 2022

Covid and Race

David Leonhardt, New York Times, June 9, 2022

One of the defining characteristics of the pandemic’s early stages was its disproportionate toll on Black and Latino Americans.

During Covid’s early months in the U.S., the per capita death rate for Black Americans was almost twice as high as the white rate and more than twice as high as the Asian rate. The Latino death rate was in between, substantially lower than the Black rate but still above average.

“We’re most vulnerable to this thing,” Teresa Bradley, a nurse in Michigan, told The Times in 2020, after surviving a Covid hospitalization. When she was wheeled through the emergency room, she was pained to see that every other patient she saw there was also Black.

These large racial gaps seemed as if they might persist throughout the pandemic, especially because white and Asian Americans were initially quicker to receive vaccine shots. Black and Latino Americans, by contrast, had less convenient access to the shots and many were skeptical of them.

But these large racial gaps in vaccination have not continued — and as a result, neither have the gaps in Covid death rates.

Instead, Covid’s racial gaps have narrowed and, more recently, even flipped. Over the past year, the Covid death rate for white Americans has been 14 percent higher than the rate for Black Americans and 72 percent higher than the Latino rate, according to the latest C.D.C. data.

It is a remarkable turnabout, a story of both public health success and failure.


The successful part of the story is the rapid increase in vaccination among Black and Latino Americans since last year. Today, the vaccination rate for both groups is slightly higher than it is for white Americans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s surveys.

That has happened thanks to intense outreach efforts by medical workers, community organizers and others. In Chattanooga, Tenn., for example, the Rev. Steve Caudle preached about the importance of vaccines: “If it’s the truth, if it’s going to save lives, it should be preached from that pulpit,” he told The Chattanooga Times Free Press. In Imperial County, just north of California’s border with Mexico, health workers took advantage of the medical infrastructure that Obamacare helped create, according to Joe Mathews of Zócalo Public Square.


Why haven’t you heard more about the narrowing of Covid’s racial gaps? I think part of the reason is that many experts and journalists feel uncomfortable highlighting shrinking racial gaps in almost any area. They worry that doing so will somehow minimize the problem of racism and the country’s enduring inequities.