Pandemic's toll on Black women

COVID stats troubling

3/4/2021, midnight
The COVID-19 pandemic is having an adverse impact on the Black community especially on Black women, who are feeling the ...
Nurse riding the subway Pexels photo by Laura James

The COVID-19 pandemic is having an adverse impact on the Black community especially on Black women, who are feeling the brunt medically, economically and mentally.

Results from a survey released by CNBC + Acorns found that 57% of Black women are depending on the anticipated next round of direct stimulus payments the federal government wants to roll out. Close to 40% of Black women have had to borrow money from family members or friends.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate rose to 8.5% for Black women aged 20 and older in January compared to the national unemployment rate falling to 6.4% nationally.

Many Black women working frontline jobs don’t have the ability to work from home, putting them at a greater potential risk to COVID-19 exposure. And when Black women do get infected with COVID-19, the medical system can fail starting at the intersection of sexism and racism.

“Black women already face social, economic and health disparities before the pandemic,” said Marcela Howell, founder and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. “These disparities have been exacerbated and making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 illness as well as mortality. We know that Black people account for 16% of COVID deaths even though we only account for 12% of the U.S. population.”

Underlying health conditions also play a role in how COVID-19 is affecting Black women. Conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and breast cancer can compromise immunity. A lack of access to good health care is playing a role.

“Women have been turned away from hospitals even though they test positive or they come in and come back and say they’re not feeling well and they’re told to go home and rest,” Howell said. “Then they turn out to be really sick and that’s always been the case with Black women when they encounter the healthcare industry. For whatever reason, the healthcare industry seems to perceive that Black women have a higher tolerance for pain.”

Howell added that rather than seeing a primary care physician, Black women often go to emergency rooms where doctors don’t believe they are suffering symptoms and are dismissed. Howell said Black women are dying of COVID-19 at all ages.

One third of Black mothers report being unable to work from home during the pandemic according to a study conducted by WerkLabs, a division of The Mom Project. With more Black women reporting being single mothers, more at-home responsibilities fall on their shoulders. Two times more Black mothers report doing more than 90% of household work compared to white mothers,

“Moms are currently in a delicate balancing act and many are unfortunately going to topple over due to the unrelenting pressures of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic if they don’t receive much-needed resources, help and support,” said Dr. Pam Cohen, president of WerkLabs and the study’s lead author. “Women of color, especially, aren’t able to focus on their careers or their families because the pandemic has stripped them of that choice, or they’re drowning in an attempt to maintain both.”

According to the National Women’s Law Center, more than 1 in 3 Black women are frontline workers, many in low-paid jobs and at high-risk of exposure to COVID-19. Many work as home health aides, restaurant workers and waitresses, child care workers, grocery store cashiers and hotel housekeepers among other jobs.

Even as registered nurses working during the COVID-19 pandemic, Black women lose $5,000 to the wage gap each year.

“We know that a large number of women are heads of households and if they get laid off there’s no salary to support that household because they are looking for hourly jobs they know they can do,” Howell said. “A lot of employers don’t provide protective equipment. A number of women are working with Amazon delivering stuff delivering food.”

With the COVID-19 vaccine effort in full swing, a low number of Black Americans have received it. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported last month that zip codes in Black neighborhoods reported vaccinations rates as low as 3%.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, 41% of Black women want to “wait and see” how the COVID-19 vaccine works for others before getting it themselves.

“Fewer and fewer Black communities have access to the vaccine,” Howell said. “There’s no explanation for that other than how you distribute health care discriminately. We’re seeing the vaccine distributed at larger hospitals in communities that are not Black communities. If you have people who don’t have access to computers, they don’t have access to these larger hospitals. It’s not like the health clinic they go to all the time has the vaccine.”

What are the solutions? Howell says better training of healthcare professionals and the Center for Disease Control getting the COVID-19 vaccine to health centers and pharmacies Black people feel comfortable coming to.

“They need to make sure that vaccines are better distributed so they’re reaching Black communities,” Howell stated. “It’s really up to healthcare professionals to figure out how to reach Black communities in a culturally competent way.”