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Social Distancing Is a Privilege

By Charles M. Blow—April 5, 2020

People like to say that the coronavirus is no respecter of race, class or country, that the disease Covid-19 is mindless and will infect anybody it can.

In theory, that is true. But, in practice, in the real world, this virus behaves like others, screeching like a heat-seeking missile toward the most vulnerable in society. And this happens not because it prefers them, but because they are more exposed, more fragile and more ill.

What the vulnerable portion of society looks like varies from country to country, but in America, that vulnerability is highly intersected with race and poverty.

Early evidence from cities and states already shows that black people are disproportionately affected by the virus in devastating ways. As ProPublica reported, in Milwaukee County, Wis., as of Friday morning, 81 percent of the deaths were black people. Black people make up only 26 percent of that county.

As for Chicago, WBEZ reported Sunday that “70 percent of Covid-19 deaths are black,” and pointed out about surrounding Cook County, “While black residents make up only 23 percent of the population in the county, they account for 58 percent of the Covid-19 deaths.”

The Detroit News reported last week, “At least 40 percent of those killed by the novel coronavirus in Michigan so far are black, a percentage that far exceeds the proportion of African-Americans in the Detroit region and state.”

If this pattern holds true across other states and cities, this virus could have a catastrophic impact on black people in this country.

And yet, we are still not seeing an abundance of news coverage or national governmental response that center on these racial disparities. Many states haven’t even released race-specific data on cases and deaths. The federal government hasn’t either.

Partly for this reason, we are left with deceptive and deadly misinformation. The perception that this is a jet-setters’ disease, or a spring breakers’ disease, or a “Chinese virus” as President Trump likes to say, must be laid to rest. The idea that this virus is an equal-opportunity killer must itself be killed.

And, we must dispense with the callous message that the best defense we have against the disease is something that each of us can control: We can all just stay home and keep social distance.

As a report last month by the Economic Policy Institute pointed out, “less than one in five black workers and roughly one in six Hispanic workers are able to work from home.”

As the report pointed out, “Only 9.2 percent of workers in the lowest quartile of the wage distribution can telework, compared with 61.5 percent of workers in the highest quartile.”

If you touch people for a living, in elder care or child care, if you cut or fix their hair, if you clean their spaces or cook their food, if you drive their cars or build their houses, you can’t do that from home.

Staying at home is a privilege. Social distancing is a privilege.

Read more at The New York Times.

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