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How COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting minorities in Ingham County

October 7, 2020
<p>A worker filling out paperwork in the COVID-19 testing station tent on the Capitol lawn during the Black Lives Matter protest at the Michigan State Capitol on June 29, 2020.</p>

A worker filling out paperwork in the COVID-19 testing station tent on the Capitol lawn during the Black Lives Matter protest at the Michigan State Capitol on June 29, 2020.

Healthcare isn't a universal resource in America. There's a pandemic raging around the world and embedding itself into every crack it can find. It shouldn't be a surprise that those cracks are disproportionately affecting minorities.

It may be easy for someone to look past the problems if they aren't directly impacted, but many in Ingham county don't have that same liberty.

Statistical breakdown

According to the U.S. Census Bureau database, the population of Ingham County was approximately 292,500 as of 2019:

  • 75.6% identified as white
  • 12.4% identified Black or African American
  • 7% identified as Asian
  • 0.6% identified American Indian and Alaska Native
  • 0.1% identified Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • 4.2% are two or more races
  • 8% are Hispanic or Latino
  • 69.2% are not Hispanic or Latino

Of that, the individuals infected with COVID-19 are:

  • 67% white
  • 14% Black or African American
  • 6% Asian
  • 11% are other, which includes American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander
  • 2% are unknown
  • 7.7% Hispanic or Latino
  • 83.8% not Hispanic or Latino
  • 8.5% are unknown

According to the Ingham County Health Department digital data dashboard, the prevalence of COVID-19 infection among some of these races and ethnicities per populations of every 100,000 pans out to:

  • 1,159 white residents
  • 1,602 Black or African American residents
  • 1,140 Asian residents
  • 1,152.9 Hispanic or Latino residents
  • 1,240 non-Hispanic or Latino residents

The death count has updated in up and down waves over the last seven months. On October 5, of the population:

  • 64.7% are white
  • 29.4% are Black or African American
  • 3.9% are other
  • 2% are unknown

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  • 5.9% are Hispanic or Latino
  • 90.2% are not Hispanic or Latino
  • 3.9% are unknown

The communities thoughts

It's important to note that while minorites are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, it isn't just health that is at stake.

Melina Brann is the executive director of the Women's Center of Greater Lansing, which provides resources and outlets to people of low income. Most of their services are free or on a sliding scale based on your personal income, including resume and cover letter writing, a professional and interview-ready clothes closet, budgeting sessions, career counseling and mental health counseling.

"I don't think anyone has ever paid over $50 for a session," she noted.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brann has seen a huge increase in need for counseling, especially from women of color who might have lost jobs or are bound to making sure their families, specifically children, are safe and healthy.

She's also seen an increase in domestic violence and sexual assault survivors seeking help.

"During this pandemic, you're isolated and less likely to have the means necessary to leave your situation," she said.

She's seen a multitude of women coming in to get personal care items like soap, conditioner, toothbrushes, toothpaste and feminine hygiene products in order to save their money for things like groceries.

Overall, Brann believes the founding of America has disproportionately affected communities of color, moreso Black communities.

"While white communities were building wealth, Black communities were sharecropping or in slavery," she said.

"White people had 300 years to accumulate wealth and experience, and Black people are still a little bit behind. We see that now today in the discrepancy in employment services. We see a lot of white people in higher up jobs and corporations and industries that are more stable than service industries, which people of color and minorities are more likely to be in. This impacted us when those were the first places to fire people or lay them off, while corporations can work from home."

Brann herself is a woman of color. She said, personally, she's had to make plans for her safety whenever she leaves the house and her sense of surroundings has been heightened into a consistent fight or flight perspective.

She focuses on knowing her neighbors and the skills each neighbor has just in case something were to happen.

Joe Darden is a professor of geography, environment and spatial sciences at MSU.

He said the pandemic disproportionately affecting communities of color, moreso Black communities, is associated with multiple factors:

The first is the difference in the residential location of these communities, in terms of neighborhood characteristics.

"Blacks are living in neighborhoods that are very low in terms of characteristics, meaning that the density is higher, which exposes Blacks to others and reduces the amount of social distancing they can participate in," he explained.

"They're not as likely to be home owners as whites, so their living situation would be one in which, if they get it, even at home, they're more likely to expose other members of the family because they lack the viable space and privilege to isolate."

The second is that Blacks are more likely to have a pre-existing condition in terms of health.

"More likely to be obese, have heart problems, asthma, whatever. You name it," he said.

The third is the types of jobs that Black communities have.

"Blacks are less likely to be able to work from home as professionals," he said. "They have to go into their place of work, whatever it may be," he said.

The fourth is that some Blacks don't have their own form of transportation, resorting to public offerings like CATA buses.

"Blacks are more likely than whites to not be a car owner," he said.

The fifth is the lack of health insurance access Black communities are subject to.

"When they get sick, if they have a pre-existing condition, they may not go in because treatment and doctors cost so much," he said.

If you put all of these factors together, there are more racial disparities compared to whites, making Black communities more likely to be exposed and face severe situations regarding COVID-19, Darden said. But, this is not a surprise to him.


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