In an opinion piece published in The New York Daily News, Columbia Mailman School’s Diana Hernández, sociomedical sciences assistant professor, and a South Bronx resident, writes that for those on the margins, coronavirus is an especially serious threat. Coronavirus doesn’t care about whether a host is high- or low-income, but disparities exist as with other health conditions, and it exposes fault lines between the haves and haves-nots.
First, notes Hernández, for many working-class and poor people, social distancing is aspirational, at best, due to the realities of work, home life, and transportation. Lower-wage workers may be more likely to be exposed to infected individuals by virtue of occupations. Dense living conditions stemming from low wages may also increase the risk of exposure.
Second, preparedness is a privilege. In anticipation of a potential shut-in, upfront costs may be prohibitive for low-income people that are already living day-to-day, pay-check to pay-check and patching together the basics in non-emergency contexts.
And health disparities make everything worse. Low-income and other marginalized groups are impacted by optimal outcomes across a spectrum of conditions and diseases. Under such circumstances, disadvantaged groups fare worse because a compromised health status make it more difficult to ward off a new infection or survive its impact.
“Time and again, we have witnessed socioeconomically disenfranchised groups facing fatal consequences due to preexisting conditions or delayed care. The coronavirus outbreak is an opportunity to revisit the unequal structure of our society. That inequity encompasses not only our health, but the system that delivers care as well as that which provides labor.”Friday Letter Submission, Publish on March 27