BVN Staff |

“[The] CDC is conducting a thorough contact investigation of the person who has tested positive to determine contacts and to assess if those contacts had high risk exposures,” said a CDC spokesperson on Monday Feb. 10, 2020—it was the 13th case of the strange new SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus diagnosed in the U.S. and the first in California.

Just over a year later, more than 3.58 million Californians have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 52,789 state residents are dead.

California’s first case was one of four evacuees taken to the UC San Diego Medical Center from among 800 U.S. nationals evacuated to military bases in the U.S. from Wuhan, China–the epicenter of the highly contagious, newly identified illness. America’s first case was identified just days earlier on Jan. 21, 2020.

Little did Black Californians know at the time, in the ensuing months the number of infections, hospitalizations, deaths and associated grief caused by the virus would disportionately impact our community, while at the same time inciting its residents to raise their voices demanding equity in how the catastrophic health crisis was being addressed at the local, state, and federal levels.

On March 19, 2020 Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order to protect the health and well-being of all Californians and to establish consistency across the state to slow the spread of COVID-19. All individuals living in the state were ordered to stay home or at their place of residence, except for permitted work, local shopping, or other permissible errands, or as otherwise authorized. This was the first of other shutdowns to come as the virus ebbed and flowed throughout the year.

As the state approaches one year since its initial COVID-19 shutdown, the effects of the virus on Black California is evident and its impacts are as profound in their implications as they are illuminating in their reality, from higher exposure to the virus due to frontline work, job losses—especially among Black women, and limited access to healthcare, as well as housing and food insecurity. It was almost as if the virus detected these vulnerabilities and worked with  intention to exacerbate them.

For example, housing shortages, un- and underemployment which resulted in a high number of multigenerational households, became breeding grounds for the virus to exploit; lack of health care, inner-city health clinic and pharmacy deserts coupled with inadequate public transportation hobbled much needed access to COVID-19 testing. Now, these same roadblocks, in addition to measured vaccine hesitancy, and the twin pillars of institutional and structural racism have impeded the initial distribution of vaccines.  

Beyond these issues, crowded and digitally disconnected households, health disparities, and other complex social needs were also made worse due to COVID-19. For example, Blacks are overrepresented in the rental housing market, Black Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for 18 percent of the impacted renter population amid COVID-19. Also, 41 percent of the Black businesses nationwide have closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and coronavirus impacts. It is unclear how many might have survived had they experienced equitable access to COVID-19 stimulus dollars made available to small businesses.

Not having access to data, disaggregated by race, served to impede a more strategic and dynamic approach to allocating resources to areas with the greatest need. Yet, what is known in this regard serves as evidence of structural racism so deeply embedded in the fabric of America and how it responds to crises in the Black community, after centuries of disenfranchisement should have been axiomatic to those in power. Instead, elected leaders acted as if the outcome was imperceivable.

Nationally, Blacks are 13 percent of the country’s population, but 30 percent of the coronavirus cases. According to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracker, Blacks die of COVID-19 at a rate that is 1.4 times higher than it is for Whites.

In California, the reported COVID-19 numbers by race reflect the percentage of the population: 6 percent of the population, 4 percent of the cases, and 6 percent of the deaths. While California does not report race and ethnicity data for hospitalizations, researchers have found Blacks and Hispanics made up more than half of all patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and over half of those who died from the disease.

But the long-term implications of COVID-19, are just beginning to be  noted. It was recently reported that in the first half of 2020, life expectancy in the U.S. declined by one year overall, however it dropped by more than two years for Black women and at least three years for Black men.

As the vaccine rollout continues, Blacks remain among those with the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy. The Black community is also least likely to  get the vaccine though not simply due to  hesitancy or resistance, but more due to a lack of information and access.

It is also important to remember in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis Black Californians also took to the streets calling for justice in response to the murder of George Floyd and in the process, risked exposure to the virus. 

For the rest of this year, the Black Voice News will be reporting on the impacts of COVID-19 on California’s Black communities in this special series: Black California: A Year Into COVID-19.

We have collected health, workforce, housing, and other data related to the impacts of the crisis and will be sharing that information using data dashboards, maps, and narrative-driven stories. Our goal is to inform and provide a platform for solutions to some of the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to hearing from you as we publish these stories and share them with the broader community.