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‘We’re angry and we’re hurting.’ Why communities of color suffer more from COVID-19

In U.S. cases of COVID-19 where race was identified, nearly 30 percent of patients were black -- even though African Americans make up only about 13 percent of the general population. The share of cases among Latinos is also disproportionately large. What is behind these significant racial disparities, and how are they affecting communities suffering the pandemic’s toll? Yamiche Alcindor reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We now return to COVID-19 and the enormous toll it's taking, particularly on people of color.

    Nearly 30 percent of COVID patients in the U.S., where race was identified, are black, according to CDC data. Yet African-Americans make up only about 13 percent of the population. The percentage of cases among Latinos also remains disproportionately high.

    Yamiche Alcindor has this report on how these disparities are affecting communities on the ground.

  • Ciera Bates Chamberlain:

    There's just this huge weight that lays on my shoulders.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Ciera Bates Chamberlain is seeing up close the devastating impact of COVID-19. The virus has torn through her family.

  • Ciera Bates Chamberlain:

    My grandmother, my father, my cousin, and my aunt, they're all hospitalized.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At hospitals across Chicago, they have all been on ventilators.

  • Ciera Bates Chamberlain:

    I have never told my dad I love him so much. And I don't think we have ever told each other that we love each other this much.

  • Glenn Harston II:

    She loved God, loved her family, and she loved to smile.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Glenn Harston II is mourning his aunt, Margaret Jones (ph). After two weeks in the hospital, her kidneys and liver shut down. Her family wasn't able to visit her.

  • Glenn Harston II:

    We don't know what the final moments were like. We — from the time that she entered the hospital, we never saw her again, never had a conversation with her again.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He now fears 15 of his family members may have the virus.

  • Glenn Harston II:

    I still don't know the exact number. You know, we — a lot of relatives weren't able to get tests. It's one thing to sit and watch things on TV, and you say, that's sad. It's different when you're living it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As the number of cases and deaths continues to mount, a clearer picture is forming of the disproportionate toll COVID-19 is having on black people and communities of color.

    In New York City, the U.S. epicenter, blacks and Hispanics are dying at roughly twice the rate of whites. In Chicago, blacks are dying at nearly three times the rate of whites. And in New Mexico, Native Americans account for more than half of all confirmed cases, despite being only 11 percent of the population.

  • Andrew Marshall:

    The disparities that existed that are being unearthed during COVID, they existed before COVID.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Dr. Andrew Marshall is an emergency physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center In Boston.

  • Andrew Marshall:

    There's a long history of disadvantage in this country.

    When you think about access to health care, when you think about access to healthy food, when you think about job security, the things that many of us enjoy and we take for granted, they make it really hard for certain communities to be healthy.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Experts point to longstanding social and racial inequities.

    Bates Chamberlain's loved ones who ended up hospitalized suffer from the diseases that run in her family, diabetes or high blood pressure. African-Americans as a whole suffer disproportionately from those same chronic illnesses, which make COVID-19 more deadly.

    Blacks and Hispanics are also less likely to have health insurance. And people of color in general are more likely to live in dense cities than whites. They also have less access to high-quality food.

    At the same time, working from home isn't an option for many.

  • Ruby Quintanilla:

    A lot of people get to stay home and quarantine themselves. That's great. I'm happy for them, you know? But I'm not lucky enough to do that. A lot of us are not.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Ruby Quintanilla works at an Amazon warehouse in Chicago. A number of her co-workers have tested positive for the virus. For her, social distancing is a privilege she doesn't have.

  • Ruby Quintanilla:

    It's next to impossible sometimes, to be honest with you. It really is. It's really hard to.

    The aisles inside the cells in the clusters are really small and tight-knit. You can't just go get a glass of water. You overthink absolutely everything. You go wash your hands, come back out, you go look at the water station, and you're like, do I really need a glass of water right now?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Quintanilla works from 8:15 p.m. to 4:45 a.m., so she can spend time taking care of her parents. Her mother has osteoporosis. Her dad is anemic and has diabetes.

  • Ruby Quintanilla:

    If he could work all day to give us the world, he would. That's my father.

    It's our turn to return that, our turn to take care of them, our turn to give them the world, our turn to make sure that they're safe, just like they did for us. But it's really hard right now, really hard to do that for them.

  • Andrew Marshall:

    I think we were grossly unprepared.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Back in Boston, Dr. Marshall says the messaging for the underserved, especially in a time of crisis, often falls short.

  • Andrew Marshall:

    We forget that there are pockets in the city that don't have as much means.

    We also forget that, when we tell somebody to go home and self-isolate, we take for granted that you can do that, that you have a room in your house where other people don't live where you can self-isolate.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Back in Chicago, Glenn Harston sees his aunt's death squarely as a failure on the part of the government.

    Do you think your aunt's death was preventable?

  • Glenn Harston II:

    I absolutely think it was preventable. There were some missed opportunities that — for leadership to really impress upon that this is a serious disease and that we needed to be mindful.

    He didn't take it very seriously. Therefore, why should anybody else? I know that, absolutely, if I turn on the TV and I see the president of the United States wearing a mask, I'm absolutely going to tune in and think that something is pretty serious.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, President Trump has appointed Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, to lead a council focused on looking at how the virus is impacting communities of color.

    But lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have been pushing the administration to do more. They say officials need to take immediate steps to address disparities and improve the way racial data is collected.

  • Ciera Bates Chamberlain:

    We're angry, and we're hurting.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For Ciera Bates Chamberlain, life is still a daily struggle. All four of her family members were released from the hospital.

    But just this morning, her father had to be rushed back. She believes her experience and countless others like it must serve as a wake-up call for the country.

  • Ciera Bates Chamberlain:

    We can't continue to just blame black people for their own deaths.

    This does fuel the fire for us to really fight hard for an equitable response.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

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