As part of a series of campus COVID-19 conversations, professors from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health met virtually Friday to discuss racial disparities and health inequities during the coronavirus pandemic.
The livestreamed event was sponsored by campus’s Othering and Belonging Institute as well as the School of Public Health, and it was moderated by behavioral sciences associate professor Denise Herd. According to the professors, the Black population is disproportionally affected by the pandemic in the United States.
“The pattern of racial disparities that we’re seeing with COVID-19 is a pattern we see with a number of other health outcomes, and that is the epidemic because once COVID is gone, these outcomes will still exist,” said Amani Allen, executive associate dean of the School of Public Health and associate professor of community health sciences and epidemiology, during the event.
Allen added that the racial distribution of the disease is “predictable” and that these disparities will continue to exist until structural changes in society are addressed. She noted that there is a link between the chronic stress that communities of color face and the systemic racism they experience that weakens the immune system.
Associate professor of epidemiology Mahasin Mujahid agreed with Allen and said the data for the disease are “alarming” but not unexpected. She added that people have to highlight the role that systemic racism plays in this pandemic, particularly against underrepresented minorities in the United States.
“Racism itself is a pandemic,” said bioethics professor Osagie Obasogie during the event.
Obasogie also noted the historical context of disparity, adding that those who are most affected tend to be the elderly and the Black population.
Cassondra Marshall, an assistant professor in residence in the Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Program, discussed the role of maternal health in relation to the pandemic. According to Marshall, Black women are three to four times more likely to face complications during childbirth.
“We saw that COVID was quickly turning into a maternal health disaster,” Marshall said.
She noted how Black women may not have the ability to switch to a home birth in a short time frame and that telehealth visits, in addition to other resources, need to be made available for people in underrepresented communities.
The professors also discussed resources for communities of color that are facing hospital closures and gentrification. Jason Corburn, professor of city and regional planning and public health, said people need to be investing in community-based organizations that are working on the front lines.
During the FAQ portion of the event, the professors discussed how the public could help raise awareness of these issues and suggested starting conversations, identifying intersectional groups who are most impacted and asking why people in these communities are facing these issues.
“One conversation is not enough but this was an important start,” Mujahid said during the event.