Nina Martin, ProPublica - Racial and social disparities in American pandemic

Nina Martin, ProPublica
Racial and social disparities in American pandemic


According to a U.S. Census Department estimate made in 2019, roughly 60 percent of Americans are non-Hispanic white and just under 40 percent are People of Color. And according to the latest data from the CDC, death rates from COVID-19 have stayed pretty close to that breakdown. But, according to research done by Kaiser Health News, The Guardian, NBC and other news organizations … in the 12 states that keep statistics on race, 65 to 67 percent of the people working in healthcare who have died from COVID-19 are People of Color.

These are statistics that tell a story.

People of Color come in many colors, and when it comes to deaths from COVID-19 among healthcare workers, three groups stand out, each one embodying a different story of medical care in America. Compared to their share of the national population health workers who are Native Americans are dying at a 50 percent higher rate; African-Americans at an excess of 100 percent, that is to say, twice as many deaths as population share would predict, while the death rate among Asian and Pacific Island-American medical workers exceeds their population share by more than 250 percent … a bit over 6 percent of the population, Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in healthcare make up 22 percent of COVID-related deaths. 

The story those last numbers tell is of American healthcare’s reliance on immigrants from places like the Philippines, many of them concentrated in medical facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics likely to have been – when the Coronavirus pandemic broke out – underbudgeted, understaffed, and woefully short of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These also tend to be facilities that serve communities of color, communities of immigrants in which infection rates are higher than the national norm, and exposures to the virus are likely to be more frequent.

Those problems – sicker patients, in lamer facilities, in poorer communities – push the numbers higher for Native American and African-American health workers. But, for both these groups there are physiological as well as socio-economic issues involved. For Native people, their generations spent in rural environments and relative isolation may make them more susceptible to infectious respiratory disease; while for African-Americans, the death statistics from COVID-19 show that not only do Blacks die in greater numbers, they die at far earlier ages.  

Detailed research into dozens of sample cases of African-American doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and janitors done by our guest today, Nina Martin, and her colleagues at the fine online news platform Pro Publica, show not statistical excesses of deaths by African-Americans, at younger ages than other people, but the people who are dying tend to be “the best of the best” of their communities, a generational loss that could have long-term effects on African-American communities and all Americans.



Nina Martin covers sex and gender issues for ProPublica. She joined the staff in September 2013 after spending much of the last decade at San Francisco magazine as articles editor (since 2007) and executive editor (2003-2005).

Martin has been a reporter and editor specializing in women’s legal and health issues for more than 30 years. Her early career included stints at The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, and the International Herald Tribune. Her work has appeared in many magazines, including Health, Mother Jones, Elle, and The Nation.

Martin is based in Berkeley, California.




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